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Consumptionomics

Katharine Helmore

24th January, 2011

Asia is growing at an unprecedented rate and consumption is following a similar trajectory. This, argues businessman Chandran Nair in his new book, could have dramatic consequences for the environment

According to Chandran Nair, the successful consumer-led economic model should not be followed or even encouraged in Asia. Similar levels of consumption in Asia, he believes, will devastate the environment and cause a ripple effect, which will reverberate around the world for decades to come. ‘Asia has a central responsibility for determining the world’s fate,’ he says in the opening chapter, not least because climate change will affect Asia the most. He goes on to disentangle climate arguments and present ways in which Asia might help itself without the help of the global community. He urges responsibility for environmental policy at a national level and sees the climate change summit at Copenhagen as illustrative of how an international consensus simply cannot, and will not work.

If that all sounds a bit far-fetched, then take a look at the statistics. Nair likes statistics and Consumptionomics is peppered with choice examples. Americans, for instance, eat a lot of poultry - an estimated 9 million birds per year. if Asians started eating the same amount, by 2050 they would be eating a mind-boggling 120 billion birds annually. At the moment, the majority of Indians and Chinese follow vegetarian diets. Even so, growing Asian populations will put a massive strain on corn production, resulting, Nair suggests, in an increased reliance on GM. China’s car manufacturing sector has finally surpassed that of the U.S and if consumption patterns continue, by 2020 it’s estimated they will own over 330 million vehicles, putting a massive strain on oil reserves. Only a decade ago, privately owned vehicles in China were virtually unheard of.

Despite the scary statistics, Nair says it’s not too late for Asia to curb environmental damage, although development is happening fast. Asian countries, including key players India and China, have some advantages at their disposal. Presently the majority of Asia’s four billion populations remain rural, regardless of increased industrialisation. Nair would like to keep it this way. He believes that choosing local development rather than urbanisation will help to slow the depletion of resources and prevent the pollution synonymous with cities. Indigenous populations are more likely to protect their environment and will strengthen and preserve agriculture.
 
Nair explores the merits of resource taxes and  argues that carbon emissions must have costs attached to them while other resources, especially land and water, must have prices that force people to use them in a sustainable fashion. He touches on essentials such as teaching people to use their land in a better way and calls for Asian governments to appoint scientists to advise them on environmental issues.

But the question remains can Asia have its cake and eat it? Industrialisation has helped western societies prosper but how will Asia sustain its growth and enjoy the benefits it brings without the same level of consumption?

Consumptionomics is published by Infinite Ideas and on sale now

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