Waiting for the pin to drop…

Sometimes I feel like a broken record… and I know that my friends would want to shut me up at times. But I am not alone, I know. A lot of people out there: scientists, researchers, teachers, social workers, environmentalists, students, writers, farmers, politicians, businessmen, housewives, policy-makers, fishermen, the UN, governments, NGOs… people who notice things, people who have a care… they have similar concerns too – maybe with varying motives, but yes, everyone has a cause to be worried.

What I have enumerated below are fast facts about the world and the people inhabiting the planet earth. Whether or not knowing will make a difference in the way you think and live your life remains to be seen.

I can only say I have done my bit – sharing information other people have meticulously collected, analyzed and put together so that people like you and me – who want to know the stark realities that will, if things remain as they are, someday betray our dreams, our ambitions and our hopes for the generations to come.

(This will be a long list of fast facts – I will be updating it on a daily basis until all information that must be shared is out there in the open – the latest addition will always appear first so you have to scroll down for content that was posted earlier. Most of the images used here are taken from various internet sources and have been included for their visual impact; if you know the original source of the photo and require attribution, do leave a comment and I will edit the post accordingly. Thanks.)

Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.Source 1

  • More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.Source 2 

  • The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.Source 3 

  • According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”Source 4 

  • Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.Source 5 

  • Based on enrollment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers.Source 6 

  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.Source 7
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.Source 8
  • Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.Source 9 

  • Water problems affect half of humanity:
    • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
    • Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day.
    • More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.
    • Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.
    • 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)
    • Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea
    • The loss of 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.
    • Close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.
    • Millions of women spending several hours a day collecting water.
    • To these human costs can be added the massive economic waste associated with the water and sanitation deficit.… The costs associated with health spending, productivity losses and labour diversions … are greatest in some of the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeds total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003.Source 10


  • Number of children in the world
    2.2 billion
    Number in poverty
    1 billion (every second child)
    Shelter, safe water and health
    For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

    • 640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)
    • 400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)
    • 270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)
    Children out of education worldwide
    121 million
    Survival for children

    • 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy)
    • 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation
    Health of children

    • 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized
    • 15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom)

    Source 11


  • Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than US$1 a day and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. However, urbanization is not synonymous with human progress. Urban slum growth is outpacing urban growth by a wide margin.Source 12 

  • Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions.Source 13 

  • In developing countries some 2.5 billion people are forced to rely on biomass—fuelwood, charcoal and animal dung—to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 80 percent of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China.Source 14 

  • Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels [by poorer segments of society] is a major killer. It claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of five: that is 4000 deaths a day. To put this number in context, it exceeds total deaths from malaria and rivals the number of deaths from tuberculosis.Source 15 

  • In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%: 

The poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of all the consumption:

  • 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity:Breaking that down further:
    Number of people living without electricity


    Millions without electricity

    South Asia


    Sub-Saharan Africa


    East Asia





  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.Source 18 

  • World gross domestic product (world population approximately 6.5 billion) in 2006 was $48.2 trillion in 2006.
    • The world’s wealthiest countries (approximately 1 billion people) accounted for $36.6 trillion dollars (76%).
    • The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).
    • Low income countries (2.4 billion people) accounted for just $1.6 trillion of GDP (3.3%)
    • Middle income countries (3 billion people) made up the rest of GDP at just over $10 trillion (20.7%).Source 19


  • The world’s low income countries (2.4 billion people) account for just 2.4% of world exportsSource 20 

  • The total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world “rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets.”In other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets in 2004.Source 21 

  • For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.Source 22 

  • 51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations.Source 23
  • The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.Source 24
  • The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money.Source 25
  • In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much.Source 26
  • An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:
    • 3 to 1 in 1820
    • 11 to 1 in 1913
    • 35 to 1 in 1950
    • 44 to 1 in 1973
    • 72 to 1 in 1992Source 27
  • “Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.”Source 28
  • For economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980 – 2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960 – 1980]. For each indicator, countries were divided into five roughly equal groups, according to what level the countries had achieved by the start of the period (1960 or 1980). Among the findings:
    • Growth: The fall in economic growth rates was most pronounced and across the board for all groups or countries.
    • Life Expectancy: Progress in life expectancy was also reduced for 4 out of the 5 groups of countries, with the exception of the highest group (life expectancy 69-76 years).
    • Infant and Child Mortality: Progress in reducing infant mortality was also considerably slower during the period of globalization (1980-1998) than over the previous two decades.
    • Education and literacy: Progress in education also slowed during the period of globalization.Source 29
  • A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.Source 30

Source: http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

Reasons the UAE has such a high carbon footprint…

October 14, 2010

…and some steps it is taking to deal with it. From thousands of private flights to the world’s first green city, here’s the lowdown on a very contradictory country.



The United Arab Emirates, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world.

According to a U.N. Development Programme report in 2003, the UAE emitted 33.6 tonnes per capita, second only to nearby Qatar and over nine times the world average of 3.7 tonnes.

The 2008 WWF Living Planet Report gave the UAE the world’s worst ecological footprint per person. It placed the United States second and fellow Gulf Arab state Kuwait in third place.

The ecological footprint measures humanity’s demand on the biosphere in terms of biologically productive land and sea required to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. The UAE has said it is becoming greener. The following lists some of the UAE’s green and not so green credentials:



Dubai’s Executive Flight Service handled 6,060 flights and 19,797 customers in 2009, according to figures from Dubai International Airport.


Dubai Taxis made 70 million journeys in 2009, in which they transported more than 140 million passengers, the emirate’s transport authority said. That compares with 120 million people who took public buses in 2009.

Since its inauguration in September 2009, the number of passengers using the Dubai Metro has risen from about 40,000 a day to more than 120,000 a day. In total, it has transported more than 19 million people so far and expects 35 million passengers in 2010.


In 2006, the UAE’s population of around 6 million consumed nearly 500 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of gas.

Germany, which has a population of more than 80 million, burned 942 billion kWh in 2008, according to the German energy industry association (BDEW).


One of the most ambitious schemes in Dubai, The World is a collection of man-made islands shaped into the continents and countries of the world. As the slump has frozen much building activity, homes have yet to be built there. If completed, the islands would be reachable only by private jet or boat.

Property developer Nakheel used 34 million tonnes of rock to build the 27 kilometre breakwater that surrounds the 300 islands in the development.

Nakheel has said its activities have no harmful effect on nature, although environmentalists have said the consequences of such extensive artificial islands on the natural ecosystem are unknown and could be damaging.



Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, better known as Masdar, was set up in 2006 with a mandate to develop, commercialise and deploy renewable energy technologies and environmental solutions.

Its flagship project in Abu Dhabi is Masdar City, a $22 billion investment in what will be the first zero-emissions, zero-waste city when completed in 2020.

The plan is for Masdar City to be home to some 40,000 residents.


The Desert Islands resort comprises the former royal nature reserve of Sir Bani Yas Island, and the Discovery Islands, six nearby offshore outcrops. All of them will be linked by a ferry and hydrofoil service, water taxis, private ‘resort’ boat service and regional and sea planes.

For every visitor to Sir Bani Yas, one mangrove plant is planted to offset the environmental impact of the visit.

Other initiatives include breeding programmes for rare and endangered wildlife, removal of human interference, including closing roads and removing old irrigation pipes, and water conservation.


The UAE has set itself a goal of reducing the maximum sulphur target for both diesel and gasoline to 10 parts per million (ppm). Industry analysts say the target will be reached once a refinery upgrading project is finished.

Until then, the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology has set a maximum sulphur limit for gasoline at 100 ppm, which must be followed by all oil companies in the UAE. For diesel, the maximum limit is 500 ppm.

(Reporting by Amena Bakr, Barbara Lewis, Nina Chestney and Henning Gloystein, editing by Lin Noueihed)

URL: http://www.kippreport.com/2010/10/reasons-the-uae-has-such-a-high-carbon-footprint%E2%80%A6/



• 10.9 million children under the age of five die in developing countries each year.

• Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths.

• Almost 16,000 children die each day from hunger-related causes – that is, one child every five seconds.

• Malaria kills an African child every thirty seconds.

• Some 1.8 million child deaths occur each year as a result of diarrhea.

Half of the 2.2 billion children in the world live in poverty.

• 121 million children do not receive basic education.


• Pneumonia and other lower respiratory infections are the number one cause of death in the developing world. This is followed by HIV/AIDS, malaria, diarrhea, TB and measles, respectively.

• TB is a frequent killer for people with AIDS. African states suffering from the HIV pandemic have experienced an annual 10 percent rise in TB cases.

• Africa and Southeast Asia account for 82% of cases of measles.


• It is estimated that 39.5 million people live with HIV globally. Africa is home to 25 million, or 64%, of total HIV infections.

Everyday in Africa HIV/AIDS kills 6, 600 people and another 8, 500 people are infected.

• 12 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.


• Close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem that is caused by water and sanitation deficits.

• Diseases and productivity losses linked to water and sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa amount to 5% of their GDP, which is more than the region receives in aid.

• Only 29 per cent of those living in rural areas in the least developed countries are served with adequate sanitation.


• In 1960, Africa was a net exporter of food; today the continent imports one-third of its grain.

• More than 40 percent of Africans do not even have the ability to obtain sufficient food on a day-today basis.

• Declining soil fertility, land degradation, and the AIDS pandemic have led to a 23 percent decrease in food production per capita in the last 25 years even though population has increased dramatically.

• For the African farmer, conventional fertilizers cost two to six times more than the world market price.


• There are an estimated 771 million illiterate adults in the world, about two-thirds of whom are women.

• Women in the least developed countries have the lowest literacy rate of any region in the world, with only 44.1 per cent being able to read.

• Only about one in three children will complete primary education in six countries: Niger (21%), Guinea-Bissau (27%), Burkina Faso (27%), Chad (32%), Burundi (32%) and Mali (33%).


• A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy. This compares with a 1 in 3,700 risk for a woman from North America.

• Every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth. This adds up to 1,400 women dying each day — an estimated 529,000 each year – from pregnancy-related causes.

• If a girl is educated for six years or more, as an adult her prenatal care, postnatal care and childbirth survival rates, will dramatically and consistently improve.


• Africa owes $227 billion to Western creditors – $379 for every man, woman and child in Africa.

• Sub-Saharan Africa receives $10 billion in aid but loses $14 billion in debt payments per year.

• Every day Sub-Saharan Africa spends $30 million dollars repaying debts to the world’s rich countries and international institutions. Often they spend so much on debt payments that they have very little left over for health or education.

For every $1 the West gives in aid to developing countries, $9 comes back in debt service.

• Africa’s debt burden is twice that of any region in the world – it carries 11% of the developing world’s debt, with only 5% of its income.


• The world population has reached 6.6 billion in 2006, up from 6 billion in 1999, and is heading toward 8 billion by 2025.

• Ninety-nine percent of that growth will be in developing countries.

• Between 2005 and 2015, the Least Developed Countries as a whole are expected to absorb nearly a quarter of all population growth in the world.

• The population of the 50 Least Developed Countries is projected to more than double, passing from 0.8 billion in 2005 to 1.7 billion in 2050.

• During 2005-2050, eight countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, United States of America, Ethiopia, and China, listed according to the size of their contribution to population growth.


The total Official Development Assistance (ODA) flow to Least Developed Countries rose by 8.8 per cent to $25.6 billion in 2005. Only seven of the world’s wealthiest countries have met the target as set by the Brussels Program of Action of spending 0.15 to 0.2 per cent of gross national income on aid to the LDCs.

• Within the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries are predicted to have a high 7.6 per cent GDP growth rate for 2007.

• The oil and mining industries have increased the predicted GDP growth to over 7 percent in Sudan, Chad, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.

• Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to have a 6.3 per cent GDP growth rate this year due to oil output recovering in Nigeria and new oil fields in Angola and Equatorial Guinea.


•  In the Least Developed Countries, 1 in 17 women have a lifetime risk of maternal death compared to 1 in 4000 in industrialized countries.

• The average life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa has only risen one year since 1970, from 45 to 46, while least developed countries overall have seen an increase of 9 years, from 44 to 53, over the same time period.

• There are 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in the least developed countries.

• Of the 130 million babies born every year, about 4 million die in the first 4 weeks of life — the neonatal period.

• Globally, women give birth to approximately 2.6 children during their lifetime, compared to an average of 4.86 children per mother in the least developed countries.


1.1 billion people lack access to clean water and 2.6 billion people lack access to decent sanitation.

• One in five people living the developing world lack access to clean water — suggested minimum of 20 liters per day -while average water use in Europe ranges between 200-300 liters per day and 575 liters in the United States.

• Poor people living in slums often pay 5-10 times more per litre of water than wealthy people living in the same city.

• About 700 million people in 43 countries live below the water-stress threshold of 1,700 cubic metres per person per year. In 20 years, 3 billion people will live in countries under that threshold.


• Net deforestation rates have fallen since the 1990-2000 period, but some 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are still lost each year, including 6 million hectares of primary forests. Primary forests — forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities — are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.

• According to NASA, the polar ice cap is now melting at the rate of 9 percent per decade. Arctic ice thickness has decreased 40 percent since the 1960s.

• More than a quarter of Africa’s population lives within 100km of the coast, and projections suggest that the number of people at risk from coastal flooding will increase from 1 million in 1990 to 70 million in 2080.

• By 2050 rainfall in Africa could decline by 5% and become more variable year by year.

Courtesy of: http://www.mediaglobal.org/page/fast-facts




Consumption and Consumerism

By Anup Shah

Global inequality in consumption, while reducing, is still high.

Using the latest figures available, in 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%:

Breaking that down slightly further, the poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of all the consumption:

In 1995, the inequality in consumption was wider, but the United Nations also provided some eye-opening statistics (which do not appear available, yet, for the later years) worth noting here:

Today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.

… The real issue is not consumption itself but its patterns and effects.

… Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. More specifically, the richest fifth:

  • Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%
  • Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%
  • Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%
  • Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%
  • Own 87% of the world’s vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%

Runaway growth in consumption in the past 50 years is putting strains on the environment never before seen.

Human Development Report 1998 Overview, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — Emphasis Added. Figures quoted use data from 1995

If they were available, it would likely be that the breakdowns shown for the 1995 figures will not be as wide in 2005. However, they are likely to still show wide inequalities in consumption. Furthermore, as a few developing countries continue to develop and help make the numbers show a narrowing gap, there are at least two further issues:

  • Generalized figures hide extreme poverty and inequality of consumption on the whole (for example, between 1995 and 2005, the inequality in consumption for the poorest fifth of humanity has hardly changed)
  • If emerging nations follow the same path as today’s rich countries, their consumption patterns will also be damaging to the environment

And consider the following, reflecting world priorities:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Cosmetics in the United States 8
Ice cream in Europe 11
Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12
Pet foods in Europe and the United States 17
Business entertainment in Japan 35
Cigarettes in Europe 50
Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105
Narcotics drugs in the world 400
Military spending in the world 780

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Basic education for all 6
Water and sanitation for all 9
Reproductive health for all women 12
Basic health and nutrition 13

(Source: The state of human development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37)

We consume a variety of resources and products today having moved beyond basic needs to include luxury items and technological innovations to try to improve efficiency. Such consumption beyond minimal and basic needs is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, as throughout history we have always sought to find ways to make our lives a bit easier to live. However, increasingly, there are important issues around consumerism that need to be understood. For example:

  • How are the products and resources we consume actually produced?
  • What are the impacts of that process of production on the environment, society, on individuals?
  • What are the impacts of certain forms of consumption on the environment, on society, on individuals?
  • Which actors influence our choices of consumption?
  • Which actors influence how and why things are produced or not?
  • What is a necessity and what is a luxury?
  • How do demands on items affect the requirements placed upon the environment?
  • How do consumption habits change as societies change?
  • Businesses and advertising are major engines in promoting the consumption of products so that they may survive. How much of what we consume is influenced by their needs versus our needs?
  • Also influential is the very culture of today in many countries, as well as the media and the political institutions themselves. What is the impact on poorer nations and people on the demands of the wealthier nations and people that are able to afford to consume more?
  • How do material values influence our relationships with other people?
  • What impact does that have on our personal values?
  • And so on.

Just from these questions, we can likely think of numerous others as well. We can additionally, see that consumerism and consumption are at the core of many, if not most societies. The impacts of consumerism, positive and negative are very significant to all aspects of our lives, as well as our planet. But equally important to bear in mind in discussing consumption patterns is the underlying system that promotes certain types of consumption and not other types.

Inherent in today’s global economic system is the wasteful use of resources, labor and capital. These need to be addressed. Waste is not only things like via not recycling etc; it is deep within the system.

The U.N. statistics above are hard hitting, highlight one of the major impacts of today’s form of corporate-led globalization.

“Over” population is usually blamed as the major cause of environmental degradation, but the above statistics strongly suggests otherwise. As we will see, consumption patterns today are not to meet everyone’s needs. The system that drives these consumption patterns also contribute to inequality of consumption patterns too.

This section of the globalissues.org web site will attempt to provide an introductory look at various aspects of what we consume and how.

  • We will see possible “hidden” costs of convenient items to society, the environment and individuals, as well as the relationship with various sociopolitical and economic effects on those who do consume, and those who are unable to consume as much (due to poverty and so on).
  • We will look at how some luxuries were turned into necessities in order to increase profits.
  • This section goes beyond the “don’t buy this product” type of conclusion to the deeper issues and ramifications.
  • We will see just a hint at how wasteful all this is on resources, society and capital. The roots of such disparities in consumption are inextricably linked to the roots of poverty. There is such enormous waste in the way we consume that an incredible amount of resources is wasted as well. Furthermore, the processes that lead to such disparities in unequal consumption are themselves wasteful and is structured deep into the system itself. Economic efficiency is for making profits, not necessarily for social good (which is treated as a side effect). The waste in the economic system is, as a result, deep. Eliminating the causes of this type of waste are related to the elimination of poverty and bringing rights to all. Eliminating the waste also allows for further equitable consumption for all, as well as a decent standard of consumption.
  • So these issues go beyond just consumption, and this section only begins to highlight the enormous waste in our economy which is not measured as such.
  • A further bold conclusion is also made that elimination of so much wasted capital would actually require a reduction of people’s workweek. This is because the elimination of such waste means entire industries are halved in size in some cases. So much labor redundancy cannot be tolerated, and hence the answer is therefore to share the remaining productive jobs, which means reducing the workweek!
  • We will see therefore, that political causes of poverty are very much related to political issues and roots of consumerism. Hence solutions to things like hunger, environmental degradation, poverty and other problems have many commonalities that would need to be addressed.

Entire volumes of research can be written on this topic so these pages provide just an insight to these issues!

Creating the Consumer

This section looks at the rise of the consumer and the development of the mass consumer society. While consumption has of course been a part of our history, in the last 100 years or so, the level of mass consumption beyond basics has been exponential and is now a fundamental part of many economies. Luxuries that had to be turned into necessities and how entire cultural habits had to be transformed for this consumption is introduced here.

Children as Consumers

The market for children’s products and food is enormous. Parents on the one hand have a hard time raising children the way they want to, while on the other hand, kids are being increasingly influenced by commercialism that often goes against what parents are trying to do.

Effects of Consumerism

Because consumption is so central to many economies, and even to the current forms of globalization, its effects therefore are also seen around the world. How we consume, and for what purposes drives how we extract resources, create products and produce pollution and waste. Issues relating to consumption hence also affect environmental degradation, poverty, hunger, and even the rise in obesity that is nearing levels similar to the official global poverty levels. Political and economic systems that are currently promoted and pushed around the world in part to increase consumption also lead to immense poverty and exploitation. Much of the world cannot and do not consume at the levels that the wealthier in the world do. Indeed, the above U.N. statistics highlight that very sharply. In fact, the inequality structured within the system is such that as Richard Robbins says, some one has to pay for the way the wealthier in the world consume.


In this section, we look at the example of tobacco consumption. Smoking kills millions. Furthermore, it exacerbates poverty, damages the environment, and (through diversion of land resources away from food production) contributes to world hunger.


Obesity typically results from over-eating (especially an unhealthy diet) and lack of enough exercise.

In our modern world with increasingly cheap, high calorie food (example, fast food — or junk food), prepared foods that are high in things like salt, sugars or fat, combined with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, increasing urbanization and changing modes of transportation, it is no wonder that obesity has rapidly increased in the last few decades, around the world.

The number of people overweight or obese is now rivaling the number of people suffering from hunger around the world. Obese people were thought to be mainly from richer countries or wealthier segments of society, but poor people can also suffer as the food industry supplies cheaper food of poorer quality.

Environmental, societal and life-style factors all have an impact on obesity and health. While individuals are responsible for their choices, other actors such as the food industry are also part of the problem, and solution. Unfortunately, the food industry appears reluctant to take too many measures that could affect their bottom line, preferring to solely blame individuals instead.


In this section, we look at the example of sugar consumption; how it has arisen (as it was once a luxury, now turned into a necessity). We look at things like how it affects the environment; the political and economic drivers in producing sugar (for example, historically, sugar plantations encouraged slavery); its health effects today; its relation to world hunger (as land used to grow sugar and related support, for export, could be used to grow food for local consumption); and so on. As we will also see, it is an example of a wasteful industry. That is, so many resources go into this industry compared to what might be needed. This wastes labor, wastes capital and uses up many resources.


Beef, like sugar, is another vivid example of using resources wastefully, degrading the environment, contributing to hunger, poor health and more.

More than one third of the world’s grain harvest is used to feed livestock. Some 70 to 80% of grain produced in the United States is fed to livestock. A lot of rainforest in the Amazon and elsewhere are cleared for raising cattle — not so much for local consumption, but for fast food restaurants elsewhere.

There are enormous related costs of what is an inefficient process when considered as a whole. Subsidies in farming in the US and elsewhere end up encouraging unhealthy foods to be cheaper than healthy foods. Just factoring in the cost of water alone, a more realistic estimate of the real cost of common hamburger meat would be $35 a pound!

As with sugar, beef was a luxury turned into an everyday item. Like sugar, it is also an example of how people’s tastes are influenced and how demands can be created (or very much expanded), rather than meeting some natural demand.


The banana industry in Latin America and the Caribbean also touches many other issues. Rainforest destruction is one effect of the banana industry.

Dependent economies is another, where bananas are grown not to feed local people and meet their demands, but to create exports for Europe and America. The recent trade disputes between those two regions have received the most attention. However, the focus of the debate is limited. It continues to leave both dependent Latin American nations, and the Caribbean nations in poverty and hunger, while Latin American nations, large multinational American banana corporations and the American government seek to destroy the Caribbean banana economy, via the World Trade Organization, in order to gain dominant access to the European markets.

So many resources are poured into the banana industry, and like the sugar and beef examples, there is a lot of unnecessary use of resources that could otherwise be freed up to help local people in a way that is also less degrading to the surrounding environment.

Wasted Wealth, Capital, Labor and Resources

We are beginning to get just a hint of how wasteful our societies are. Sugar, beef, and bananas are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of examples of wasted industry and waste structured within the current system. Not only are certain wasteful job functions unnecessary as a result, but the capital that employs this labor is therefore a wasteful use of capital. As a result, we see waste and misuse of the environment, as well as social and environmental degradation increasing. Our industries may be efficient for accumulating capital and making profits, but that does not automatically mean that it is efficient for society. However, with such wasted labor what do we do? We can’t have such an enormous idle labor force, right? Well, as J.W. Smith points out, we should share the remaining jobs. This would also reduce our workweek. Something technocrats have kept promising us in rhetoric only!

Mathematics of Wasted Labor—an Example

With kind permission from J.W. Smith, a part of the conclusion to Part I of World’s Wasted Wealth II (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994) has been reproduced on this page. That part is titled The Mathematics of Wasted Labor. It is a vivid example of wasted and unnecessary labor using the United States as the case study. While the book was written back in 1994 and the numbers, facts and estimates are hence based on data from the early 1990s, the pattern and examples shown here are still very valid. His calculations suggest that with the elimination of wasted labor in the U.S. and sharing the remaining productive jobs between all those who can work, workers would need to work just 2.4 days per week!

Energy Security

Energy security is a growing concern for rich and emerging nations alike. The past drive for fossil fuel energy has led to wars, overthrow of democratically elected leaders, and puppet governments and dictatorships.

Leading nations admit we are addicted to oil, but investment into alternatives has been lacking, or little in comparison to fossil fuel investments.

As the global financial crisis takes hold and awareness of climate change increases, more nations and companies are trying to invest in alternatives. But will the geopolitics remain the same?

Illicit Drugs

The global illicit drugs market is enormous, estimated at some $320 billion. This makes it one of the largest businesses in the world. Some believe in strong prohibition enforcement. Others argue for decriminalization to minimize the crime and health effects associated with the market being controlled by criminals. Are there merits to each approach?


Pineapples are nutritious and popular. But the cheap fruit comes at a high cost. Health and environmental degradation has affected both workers and local communities. Price cuts in European supermarkets has led to wage cuts for workers already earning very little.

By Anup Shah

  • Created: Friday, September 07, 2001
  • Last Updated: Saturday, December 11, 2010

 “There’s enough on this planet for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed.” — Mahatma Gandhi

 © Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2011

6 thoughts on “Waiting for the pin to drop…

  1. I like the proverbial ‘pin drop’ for a title, which also helps explain why so few comments will appear here as well, but then what *CAN* you say, nobody approves, it’s just immutable things like physics, and the price we pay as a planet for economic freedom.

    • I was actually thinking of using “If Atlas shrugged…” (the world would literally fall and maybe break into pieces???) but it is too close to Ayn Rand’s title and her novel has a different subject matter altogether so I avoided it. I chose this title instead to refer to the deafening silence that is there for the drop of a pin to resound (everyone knows the idiomatic expression) — am sure it’s not lost on you. We’re living in an atmosphere of “uneasy silence” — people choose to ignore what is — maybe hoping someone else will do the job they should be doing as well…

  2. In the “Children” section, there is a picture of a group of hungry children. Where are the little boys from in the picture from/ where was the picture taken?

  3. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your site offered us with useful information to work on. You have done a formidable process and our whole group will likely be thankful to you.

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