Overloaded truck - Main Khursheed, http://chromesquirrels.com/
Calculations about global human consumption
Here I took GDP per capita figures to infer per capita consumption and ecological footprint. One could argue that comparing living standards on the basis of GDP might not be the best measure as it does not capture differences among countries in their cost of living, therefore GDP per capita on Purchasing Power Parity would be a more appropriate measure for comparing countries.
Although this is true, my primary objective is to use these figures to infer consumption and footprint levels impacting the Earth rather than making a precise comparison of living standards among different countries.
The definition of ‘GDP per capita’ by the World Bank:
“GDP per capita is gross domestic product divided by midyear population. GDP is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources.”
Data sets used:
http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD – GDP per capita
http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.CD – GDP per capita PPP (Purchasing Power Parity)
http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD – Total GDP on market value
http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL – Population
Data preparation and processing:
Countries listed in the data sets having no GDP per capita figure have been removed. Aggregated items like ‘Arab World’, ‘Low Income’, ‘South Asia’, etc. have also been removed. The remaining set of 183 countries has been sorted in ascending order based on ‘GDP per capita – 2014’.
The world average GDP per capita for 2014 according to the World Bank’s own calculation, also included in the initial data set, was 10,721 USD with a total of 7,261 billion people.
In the cleaned list of data sorted by countries’ ‘GDP per capita’, the closest value to the world average is Gabon‘s at 10,772 USD (preceded by Turkey at 10,515 USD, followed by Malaysia at 11,307 USD).
Calculating the sum of the countries’ total GDP in 2014 as an indicator of their consumption (proportionate to footprint) results in the following figures:
– Countries with above world average GDP per capita: 54,651 billion USD with a population of 1,596 billion people
– Countries with below world average GDP per capita: 21,783 billion USD with a total population of 5,487 billion people.
Here a clear sign of inequality can be seen, given that roughly 22% of the world population claims 2.5 times more GDP than the remaining 78% of the world population.
Let’s now calculate the total GDP if everybody with a current ‘below world average GDP per capita’ had exactly as much as Gabon, so that an invisible hand suddenly raised living standards in these countries:
– 5,487 billion people * 10,772 USD (GDP per capita in Gabon) = 59,106 billion USD
So the footprint of these countries would grow 3 times the size of their 2014 footprint.
If the countries with current ‘above average GDP per capita’ levels lived on the level of Gabon:
– 1,596 billion people * 10,772 USD (GDP per capita in Gabon) = 17,192 billion USD
The difference between the wealthier countries’ current footprint and their hypothetically lower ‘Gabon’s average’ footprint is 37,459 billion USD.
If we were to distribute this 37,459 billion USD among everybody so that each person had the same GDP per capita at the end, the result obviously would be the world average – very close to Gabon’s GDP per capita.
Would it be good enough?
It appears it wouldn’t, because at the same time we can observe that – as we speak – people from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, etc. are not migrating to Gabon. They stop over in Turkey and in Greece only as long as absolutely necessary. They then move on to Germany, the UK, or France, where the average GDP per capita – in contrast with Gabon’s 10,772 USD – is 4 to 5 times higher (France: 42,733 USD, UK: 46,332 USD, Germany: 47,822 USD)
It is necessary to underline the importance of the AVERAGE GDP per capita figures used. So we are not talking about people like a bank CEO. We are talking about GDP per capita of an average person who most probably works 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week, commutes 1-3 hours to their working place and lives in an average-sized apartment.
If we distributed all the GDP of the wealthier top 22% among everybody, including those below the average GDP per capita level 78%, then
– we would have 7,261 people living on the average Gabon citizen’s level
– we would still consume 1.5 of planet Earth’s capacity, hence the Earth would be overpopulated by 50% even in this case
– we would effectively lose the required capital for large scale investments financing research, building eco-friendly power plants, etc.
If we expect the whole population of this planet to live on the level of Germany, then we could/should have a GDP amounting to 347,221 billion USD, which is 4.5 times higher than the current global GDP, using 4.5 * 1.5 = 6.75 of planet Earth’s capacity.
To put it plainly, and in a somewhat oversimplified context: If two people own some chickens, and one day they decide to eat all the eggs they can find plus one chicken as well (consuming more than their carrying capacity), and they continue this exercise every time they collect eggs, sooner or later there will be no chickens and no eggs, regardless of how they share the eggs and the meat of the chicken between each other.
This post is written as a reply to a comment stating: “Human overpopulation being an excuse to hidden conspiracies against more vulnerable groups.”
This statement is worth another post which I will share later. Here I only would like to highlight the following:
According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2014 the global human footprint exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity by 50%. (I think it is a very conservative approach, again another post later.)
Based on that and on the figures presented above, we can clearly see that sharing global GDP equally among the human population could bring everybody an average Gabon citizen’s living standard, which appears to be much lower than the living standard sought by ‘more vulnerable groups’, i.e. those who live below the world average.
Raising living standards above the world average requires additional resources, namely ecosystem resources. Our planet has to be enlarged, stretched. But it doesn’t work. Living standards currently can be increased mostly by making more damage to the planet, while populations are constantly and exponentially rising especially in vulnerable countries.
So it is quite clear that the current trajectory of global ‘development’ is completely unsustainable.
Of course it cannot be excluded that one day technologies and people’s ethical norms will be developed enough to secure reasonable living standards for many billions of people. Following current global trends, however, by the time this advanced level of technology and ethical norms arrive, all untouched regions will be destroyed and the majority of currently living species will be extinct, at least in the wild.
World Bank combined Per Capita GDP and Population data extract 2016.03.14 (from the author)