19 May 2009
(Photo from the Wall Street Journal)
I don't know if this blog post is properly titled, or even if I have a concise and cogent topic for the post, but I just want to throw out a few things that I've been thinking about lately.
To get started, please click here and check out the Global Rich List. You put in how much money you earn, and see how much of the world's population is poorer than you.
OK, now that you've done it, perhaps you're feeling richer than you did before you clicked on the link. Maybe you just found that you're in the richest 10 percent, or 4 percent, or 2 percent of the world. But your place there is not surprising, since half of the world (roughly 3 billion people) lives on less than $2.50 a day. And the richest 20 percent of the world accounts for three-quarters of the world's income.
Some people would like to think that this is changing--that as more wealth is created throughout the world, more people have access to wealth. But according to the UNDP, 80 percent of the world's population lives in countries where the income differentials are actually widening.
Whenever I start thinking about poverty, I invariably find myself considering my own place and role in the continuing existence of world poverty. After all, the world is rich in resources and wealth, but that wealth is unequally distributed. So the wealthy have more wealth, and as a result they (we) are able to consume more resources. This means that the richest people in the world consume far more resources than the poorest people in the world. In fact...
I got this image from a Global Issues blog:
If you break it down even further, the richest 10 percent of the world's population consumes nearly 60 percent of the world's resources. (By the way, in case you're interested, the breakdown in the United States is no less shocking--in the U.S., the richest 1 percent of the population holds 40 percent of the country's financial wealth.)
So what I keep thinking about is: How much of that consumption am I responsible for?
And the more I think/read about it, the more I feel like there is a crucial link between the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the overconsumption by rich countries of the earth's (limited) resources.
My sister-in-law told me that when she was young, when her parents would say something like "Eat your dinner because there are starving children in China," she would respond with, "Then why don't you pack up this food and send it to them?!" It's funny, but it's also sort of a valid question. How does my eating everything on my plate change the lot of a hungry person in China (or Ethiopia, or Bolivia)? What is the connection between the amount of resources I consume and the amount of resources other people have access to? I definitely have a sense that this is a moral issue, and that it is immoral for me to consume extravagant amounts of resources when so many people don't even have enough to eat. So I believe that I should consume resources responsibly, AND I believe that we have to find ways to improve the distribution of goods and services so that the income gap doesn't continue to widen... but I want to hear people's ideas about how these two things are linked. Because I believe that they are, but I'm having a hard time explaining myself.
[This is where I'm really hoping that some of you (I know you're out there reading this, but most of you are COMMENT-SLACKERS) will step in, comment, and tell me what you think, because I feel like it's important and I also feel like there is something I'm missing.]
Of course, I can think of lots of things that each of us can do to reduce our ecological footprint and consume the earth's resources in a more responsible way, and it seems like this would be a good place to mention a few. A few suggestions, each with a link that will explain why it's relevant/important:
*Eat less (or no!) meat.
*Eat (real) food that is locally grown.
*Remember that famous maxim: Reduce, reuse and recycle.
*Assess your own ecological footprint and think about how to reduce it.
*Diagnose yourself: Do you have affluenza?