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4.1 Earths

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It'll only take 4.1 fantasy earths to support my standard of living, according to the so-called "redefining progress" organization's quiz, which purports to estimate how many planets it would take to support the world if everyone in the world had my exact same standard of living.

Of course, they use several statistics that makes this a meaningless number. According to their faq they compute the productivity of the earth using something they call "global acres", which they assume has "world-average productivity". I don't know if this is a valid metric. I can spend far more on food then someone in another, less prosperous, country. So, the farmer growing my food can spend more to increase productivity, thus reducing my impact.

It's also likely that if everyone in the world had my lifestyle, the population would grow at a much slower rate. So, it's somewhat simplistic to assume that a US citizen takes a larger-than-average share of the earth's resources. While our individual shares may be large, we produce fewer children to consume more in the future.

Finally, it's hard to take such advice from an organization called "redefining progress". Right now, the standard of living for most people in the world is rising. Should we redefine progress so that the standard of living drops?

- Tom | permalink | changelog | Last updated: 2003-04-23 18:13

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Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2003 by Chris:

Yes, yes we should redefine progess that way! The ideal state of man is naked in the jungle without language or tools, and every step towards that is progress!

Hm. Or something like that. But if everyone in the world had your lifestyle, we'd all starve to death because CS grad students don't produce much food. Moreover, the odds that they take economy of scales into account is about 0. For example, if Afrika was converted over into something the soil could support (e.g. industrial factories) and places with rich soil were used for farming, this would be far more efficient than what currently takes place. And finally, of course, if everyone had your lifestyle they'd all be college educated and technology would have progressed much, much faster, and so genetically engineered foods (etc.) would be much better and more efficient. But why let a little thing like complexity get in the way of a political message?

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