Jared Diamond has a must-read op-ed in the New York Times on consumption rates. Money quote:
If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).
Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.
He stretches a bit in the first few paragraphs to argue that inequal consumption rates somehow caused 9/11, but the whole piece is still worth a read.
The problem is that there’s no lobby for conservation. No one’s arguing for less, because no one makes money on the idea of “less.”