Tag Archives: inequality

Health: Potential for global crisis mitigation

The primary aim of the One in a Billion project is to contribute to the mitigation of the multifaceted sustainability crisis bearing down on us (summarized here). As discussed in the first action plan post, each of the ten major categories covered in the One in a Billion project will be closed by three posts discussing the potential for crisis mitigation, the benefits to individuals implementing the strategy and the primary resistances to change that individuals are likely to experience. This first post will look at the potential for crisis mitigation under five categories:

  • Climate change – carbon footprint reduction
  • Resource depletion – ecological footprint reduction
  • Economic crisis – sovereign debt reduction
  • Social inequality – increase in social mobility
  • Societal complexity – reduction in interdependence and increase in adaptability

The estimates given below represent the potential impact if the average American implemented these strategies and reduced his/her need for healthcare by a factor of five. As discussed in some previous posts (1, 2, 3), this is certainly possible and, as illustrated in the figure below, a number of countries already spend less than 20% of the massive American sum while actually achieving a greater lifespan (you can also confirm this yourself on Gapminder.org). (American statistics are used simply due to the large pool of available data.)

Climate change

Living a healthy lifestyle based on a nutrient-rich plant-based diet and more travelling on foot or by bicycle can truly make tremendous dents in the average carbon footprint, but this will be covered in subsequent categories. Here we will only look at the carbon footprint of actual medical services themselves. The US healthcare sector accounts for roughly 8% of total CO2 emissions, implying that the American carbon footprint could be cut by 6.4% if people simply looked after themselves. 

Resource depletion

About 4.3% of the American ecological impact comes from medicine, implying that a factor of five reduction in health service consumption could slice off a good 3.4%. 

Economic crisis

This is the area in which better health can make the biggest direct impact. Based on the 2011 budget, the US currently pays about 36% of its tax revenues directly back in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. A healthy population would require about 20% of this sum, allowing the US to slash its spending by $668 billion (18.6% of total spending) and slash the humongous budget deficit by 53%. In addition, the increased productivity from a healthy population would increase the tax base. The average American worker takes about 14 days of sick leave per year for own illness and to care for the illness of a family member. Cutting this number by a factor of 5 gives 11 extra days or about 4.5% extra working time. If this translates in a 4.5% increase in the tax base, another $104 billion could be collected to further reduce the deficit. 

Social inequality

Illness is a massive problem for poor people and this is where a culture of excellent personal health can work miracles. Such a culture of excellent personal health within the billion wealthiest individuals will make healthy living a whole lot easier by forcing government and private enterprise to adapt to consumer demand and greatly increase the availability and affordability of organic plant-based whole foods instead of processed meat-based junk foods. This will make healthy living much more accessible to the poor, giving them an honest chance at the radiant health required to build a much better life. 

Societal complexity

Poor health significantly increases the interdependence and vulnerability of society. A person on five different kinds of permanent medication is completely dependent on the manufacturers of this medication, the insurance company financing this medication and the science behind it (which is sometimes dangerously sloppy). On the other hand, healthy individuals are fully independent and will be able to adapt to the future environmental, economic and societal shocks that are heading our way. 

In summary

  • Climate change – 6.4% reduction in carbon footprint
  • Resource depletion – 3.4% reduction in ecological footprint
  • Economic crisis – $772 billion (33.5% of total tax base) saved and gained
  • Social inequality – large potential to alleviate inequality
  • Societal complexity – large reduction in interdependence and increase in adaptability

Understanding the threat

It really is vitally important that people understand the significant amount of trouble we are in already today – mid 2012. Very briefly summarized, the problem looks like this (click here for a more complete version):

Our economic system must grow every single year for it to continue existing. If the nominal GDP stops growing, unemployment will rise, people will not be able to pay back their extraordinary amounts of debt and the entire system will implode. The fact is, however, that perpetual exponential growth will run headlong into fixed planetary boundaries probably within this decade. This will cause the cost of living to spike as never before, plunging hundreds of millions into poverty and have hundreds of millions more fighting for their very survival.

In order to prevent this from happening, our civilisation requires massive infrastructure investments in the sectors of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, water management, waste management, clean transportation, clean industry and green urbanization. Unfortunately, however, our labor market is structured totally for consumerism and is therefore totally incapable of pulling this off.

If you look at the labor market of any developed country, you will see that we manufacture/produce almost nothing. The vast majority of the labor market is in the service sector, designed to bring goods produced by other nations to local consumers as effectively as possible. In the USA for example, less than 2% of the workforce are qualified as engineers/architects implying that, even if we miraculously manage to scrape together the money, we most certainly don’t have the manpower required to construct this massive amount of new infrastructure.

Meanwhile, our already unsustainable carbon footprint, ecological footprint, debt, social inequality and societal complexity continue to rise year in and year out. How long do you think we can keep this up?

Filed under: Introduction – Key concepts

Crunch some numbers

People (and counties) are constantly measuring themselves up against each other. This can be a good thing and lead to some healthy progress, but unfortunately, we tend to measure progress and prosperity in all the wrong ways.

People (and countries) still value conspicuous consumption very highly. For individuals, this can be reflected in a massive house, many fancy cars and a walk-in wardrobe with enough clothes and shoes to open a small retail outlet. For countries, it is that all-important measure called GDP.

Now there is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but if most of the contestants in the race are running in the wrong direction, you have a problem. The real goal is a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life, but unfortunately, most of us are constantly becoming unhappier, unhealthier, more broke and an ever-growing burden on the planet.

The fundamental mindset that has gotten us running in the wrong direction is called consumerism. As we have discussed before, consumerism does not bring any happiness and presents a big threat to our environment, our economy and our social structures. We really have to start running in the right direction.

The correct measures of individual success are linked on the right-hand sidebar of this blog under “lifestyle calculators” and the correct measure of success for a country is called the Happy Planet Index. Please determine how you are faring in this crucial race and then please make a commitment to at least start running in the right direction.

Filed under: Introduction – Key concepts

Consumerism and inequality

There are a number of fundamental reasons why inequality is such a natural effect in our consumerist society.

  • Inflationary monetary policy and artificially low interest rates keep the poor and the middle class from saving and investing
  • Our systems allow people to get ridiculously rich from speculation and debt leveraging; completely legal mechanisms by which they transfer wealth from the middle class to themselves
  • When government monetizes debt or disburses stimulus packages, our fiat money system creates an inflationary wealth transfer from the middle class to the well-connected elite
  • Elite special interest groups often have a big influence in government affairs through which they receive bailouts, protection and special privileges

These points might be a bit technical and actually require many pages to outline fully (as is illustrated in the page series on our exchange economy). In general though, all you need tho know is that our current systems, by their very nature, will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

The natural result is a global wealth distribution such as the one shown below.

Just take a look at these numbers: the top 0.5% of the world control 38.5% of the wealth, while the bottom 67.6% control only 3.3%. In other words, on average per capita, the top 0.5% are 1600 times richer than the bottom 67.6%.

In the meantime, as shown below, the consumerist mindset created by our current systems has totally destroyed wealth accumulation among the middle class, further widening the wealth gap.

Sadly, despite all the economic pain we are currently experiencing, people are still sticking to the status quo of more debt and more spending. In effect, we are continuously jeopardizing our long term future for some temporary short term gains. This cannot end well…


Filed under: Introduction

Consumerism and the environment

Consumerism is the primary driver of all the crises facing our civilization today. The average American today consumes like we have 4 planets and leaves a carbon footprint 10 times that which is sustainable. It is not only the Americans though. As seen below, the richest 10% of the world population account for almost 60% of global consumption.

In addition, it is a fact that we are already consuming 50% over our sustainable limit…

Thus, the top 10% of the global population actually consume about 90% of the resources that the earth can sustainably provide. Wow…

Therefore, if everyone consumed like the top 10%, the earth could house only 780 million people (9 times less than the current population). On the other hand, if that 10% were not here, the earth could accommodate another 4.2 billion people in addition to the remaining 6.3 billion and still live sustainably.

That is the massive effect of consumerism…

Filed under: Introduction

The state of our world

Here is a brief summary of the rather disconcerting state of the world we live in today:

Under current policies, the world will warm by about 3.5 degrees during this century – a situation that is projected to lead to runaway global warming. The previous time the world reached 6 degrees of warming, it lost 90% of all its life…

Already today, the human race is consuming resources at such a high rate that our planet needs 1.5 years to replenish all the resources we consumed and process all the waste we excreted in a single year. How long do you think we can keep this up?

In order to ensure a sustainable future, we need massive investments in a wide range of sectors, but, as everyone knows, our economy is seriously ill right now. We are simply too broke and too deep in debt to address our pressing ecological problems. 

Since the world is so incredibly unequal (the poorest 70% of people control only 3.5% of the wealth), any significant ecological or economic problems will put millions of poor lives in jeopardy. This can lead to massive social unrest and loss of life.

Our society has also grown incredibly complex, making it very hard to take swift corrective action. We need to act, but there are a million conflicting ideas about what this acting should actually look like.

So, these are the global crises we face today. Addressing these crises can seem totally impossible, but the good news is that you can help mitigate each and every one of these crises by building for yourself a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life. 

For interested parties, a more detailed analysis can be found here.

Filed under: Introduction