American standard of living harms the environment

By Madina Safdari, Editor-in-Chief

Countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_world_map
Countries by carbon dioxide emissions world map, Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s quite simple: more money, more problems. That sentiment is especially true when it comes to sustainability and conservation. According to the Huffington Post article “Redefining environmentalism: The paradox of wealthy environmentalists,” American families that make more than $75,000 a year are responsible for quadruple the carbon emissions of families living on less than $10,000.

Americans enjoy a wealth of food, water, energy and more, all at the flick of a switch and the click of a button. The American way of life is centered around being as efficient and productive as possible. However, less time means a greater reliance on the easy way out when it comes to things like grocery shopping and transportation. And the easy way out is often not the best option for the environment.

American consumerism stands in direct contrast to environmentalist concerns. The size of people’s homes, the cars they drive, how much electricity they use, air travel, and more all define their carbon footprints. Even small actions like using plastic bags, flushing the toilet more than necessary, and leaving the air conditioner on can have catastrophic impacts on the environment.

Though America’s population may be small in comparison to those of China and India, the country is growing, which means the increased consumption of resources. According to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, the United States had the largest per person carbon emissions in 2014 at 16.2 metric tons, and that figure is only growing.

Yet, concern for population growth is either nonexistent or misguided. The common misconception is that population growth is caused by poor people in developing countries that have too many babies.

This is true to a certain extent in countries like Niger, where the total fertility rate is 6.62 children per woman, or in Uganda where it is 5.97, according to “Index Mundi.” There is no doubt that countries like this do need help in stabilizing their population with access to birth control and health care; however, it is unfounded to place the burden of population growth entirely upon those people who consume natural resources the least.

Population growth is, in fact, more harmful in developed countries where the standard of living is extremely high. Although the total fertility rate in the United States was at 1.87 in 2016 according to the Central Intelligence Agency, which is below replacement rate, the 323 million people currently residing in the United States still do considerable damage to the environment.

Moreover, according to the Worldwatch Institute, the 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.

In his New York Times article “What’s your consumption factor?” Jared Diamond, a distinguished ecologist, stated that the magic number is 32. The average rate at which people consume resources is 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia than it is in the developing world. That also means 32 times the consequences.

Pollution, global warming, extinction, and climate change are just a few of the substantial repercussions of the overuse of natural resources.

Amidst a presidency where environmental conservation has been attacked, it has become harder to hold people accountable for their actions.

In the end, unless significant changes are made in the quality and standard of living, the wrath of neglecting the environment will increase and be felt by none other than the people who contributed the least to it.

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