I heard a speaker on a radio talk show the other day. It was on On Point on NPR, but I don't know the name of the person. But he made an excellent mathematical and Malthusian point that is a huge thorn in the side of long-term American foreign policy.
From what I can tell, it has been a keystone in the structure of that policy that if basic, honest, market economics were to take root in oppressed countries (I'm thinking as far back at least as the former USSR and Eastern European States, but the list also includes China, Cuba, Iran, and probably others), that the popular demands for the freedom to get rich would push the countries inexorably towards democracy. And that the resulting interconnected economy is our best chance at world peace. (Forgive me while I choke on the idea that world peace through captilism is possible. I'm just calling it like I see it.)
In other words, if they spend, save, and live in the comforts we do, the world would be a better place.
But this speaker's point was that this is mathematically impossible. The U.S. population is about 6% of the world's (300M out of 5B, roughly). And (according to this expert) we consume about 25% of the world's resources. Now, I'm sure that a more interconnected market across the world would introduce some efficiencies into the market that would allow people the same standard of living by using fewer resources. But even being generous there, that rate of consumption allows for a maximum of maybe a third of world's population to live like us before we're using up all the resources.
Of course, we see this effect already in the rising price of oil due to massive demand from China.
We can't blame China, of course, because they're just doing what we've wanted them to do all along. Dubai is grabbing at the same brass ring, and they just gotta be using more than their share of resources (like an estimated 17% of the world's high-rise cranes). And I predict that in the next 30 years we'll start to see wars in the third world not just over control of industrial resources (like oil) and arable land, but over that most basic of resources: water.
So when we talk about "sustainable lifestyles", let's remember that we're talking about more than a moral obligation to leave our children a clean world with substantial green space; we're also talking about leading by example. If we want to seriously work to bring the rest of the world up to anything resembling our standard of living (leading to world peace, or not), we have to set an example that doesn't literally burn the world to a depleted crisp.
Just another way that being "green" is patriotic. C'mon, let's all say it together: green is patriotic, green is pa.....