Cleaning Up for the Kardashians

KimKEveryone is probably familiar with the “reality” television show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”. It is a digital landfill dedicated to the glorification of gluttonous consumerism. A Dead Kennedys’ song (see, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death”) evoked similar sentiment when Jello and the gang railed against the excesses of 1980s consumerism. Solid waste is discussed extensively in Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming (2015). So what is there to clean up for the Kardashians? There is a much compelling and sobering “other inconvenient truth” that raises its ugly head. This truth not only applies to Kenedythe Kardashians, but also to many of their fellow Hollywood celebrities and also many of the members of the economic elitist1% club which drew the wrath of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Please understand that this other inconvenient truth is not the sole purview of the Hollywood crowd but it crosses all strata of the 1%. That’s right, you can also include Dick Cheney, the Koch brothers, Hillary Clinton, and Michael Moore as also being complicit. But being complicit with what? The simple fact of the matter is that with increased affluence comes increased wasting of resources. Data collected by the World Bank has shown that the rate of wasting resources is much higher with the affluent than it is with lower economic groups. In other words, those members of society that are the most economically privileged or fortunate are the most promiscuously wasteful. It is a sad, but true, irony.

The referenced World Bank report (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012) assembled pie-chat-imgdata which showed that waste generation varies according to both region and economic levels. Waste generation rates vary as a function of affluence. It appears to be clear that greater societal technological sophistication and affluence results in greater per capita waste generation. Consider the chart showing the impact of affluence on waste generation. High-income countries produce the most waste per capita, while low income countries produce the least solid waste per capita (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012). The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries generate 572 million tones of solid waste per year. The per capita values range from 1.1 to 3.7 kg per person per day with an average of 2.2 kg/capita/day.

Data for this trend is reinforced in the graph shown below from a World Bank Report (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012). These data show the profound impact of affluence which is strongly linked with societal technological complexity on waste generation. As human societies get more technologically capable, waste generation rates per capita rise in kind. In effect, as societal functionality gets more technical, waste generation rates increase and humans become less resource efficient and more wasteful.

Not surprisingly, the World Bank (Hoornweg and Bhada -Tata, 2012) has reported that global waste volumes are increasing quickly at faster rates than the rate of urbanization. This is not unexpected if one is inclined to believe that per capita waste generation rates will be similar to a trend that Cook (1971) projected for energy usage per capita. That is, the combined impact of population increases along with upgrades in standard which is increased affluence trump urbanization rates.

bar-graph-imgAnother inconvenient truth as noted by McKinsey (2011) is the potential impact of having 3 billion people suddenly thrust into middle class. This trend alone could massively increase the waste production rates of resources. To illustrate this point using the data from the chart above, let us assume that 1 billion people migrate from the lower middle class of affluence to the high affluence. The chart shows that the low class produces about 0.5 kg waste/capita/day while the average middle class produces about 0.8 kg waste/capita/day. This is a difference of 0.3 kg waste/capita/day. In a scenario having 3 billion people transition to the middle class, world waste generation rates increase by a staggering 2.4 billion kgs/day or almost 1 trillion kgs per year. In other words, increased affluence not only increases per capita resource consumption, but also per capita waste production. As world societies strive to increase standards of living, we must be fully aware of this twofold unfortunate reality. A renewable economy with a recycling system is more than a want, it is a necessity.

References:
Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Super Nexus Press, West Chester, PA, 2015.

Hoornweg, D. and Perinaz Bhada-Tata, P., What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2012.

Cook, E., “The Flow of Energy in an Industrial Society”, Scientific American, September, 1971.

McKinsey Global Institute, Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Food, and Water Needs, McKinsey and Company, San Francisco, November, 2011.

van Leeuwen, M., et. al., “The agri-food sector in Ukraine: Current situation and market outlook until 2025”, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Seville, Spain, 2012.

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death!

The Dead Kennedys (DK) are a punk band with hits such as “California über alles”, a commentary on California’s two-time governor, Jerry Brown (watch here). They also took on sustainability issues and I think they dead kenedyshad it right. Hat’s off to Jello Biafra and the gang. In their compilation album of 1987 entitled, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death,” DK’s album title is a play on the famous quote by the US Revolutionary Era politician, Patrick Henry, who proclaimed, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” Henry’s quote came from his famous speech to the Virginia state parliament, the House of Burgess, in March, 1775 in Richmond, Virginia. The full quote from the ending to Henry’s speech is thought to be, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”

So what do the Dead Kennedys and Patrick Henry have to do with global warming, climate change, environmental deterioration, and the impending resource scarcity crisis? Henry’s message from 1775 is clearly that freedom for the American colonies is so precious that it is paramount above all else, even life itself. patrick henryWhat the Dead Kennedys are espousing in their 1987 album with its puck rock polemic is that wanton consumerism and wasting of material things derived from our precious resources is more important to human society than anything else, even life. Thus, “Give me convenience or give me death.”

Consumerism in its earliest forms made life for humans and human societal functionality more palatable. It can now be argued that societal perception of consumerism has morphed significantly during the 20th and 21st centuries. Before this time, having appliances and goods that make daily easier was viewed somewhat as a privilege for which one is grateful. Now it seems that the reckless purchase, consumption, and wasting of goods obtained from resources of any kind is essentially a pathological obsession for material “things.” The “throwaway society” was born. Chemicals which are pivotal for making consumables were created using nuclear reactions with incomprehensible amounts of energy in distant stars. What the Universe took billions of years to create and to convey to Earth, society consumes and wastes in a matter of days.

ratA final note submitted for your consideration. In Chapter 1 of “Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming,” the account of the rats of the Mautam is told. Once every 48 years, local black rat populations (Rattus rattus in the Mizoram environ of India) explode in huge numbers because of the production of bamboo fruit. The locals refer to these events as the “Mautam”. The hordes of rats decimate crops and food supplies in the nearby villages leading to potential famine conditions for the human inhabitants. The rats are also decimated. The rats consume the new resource with a vengeance, see their populations skyrocket and still continue to consume. As the bamboo fruit is exhausted, the rats’ societal structure collapses and degenerates into cannibalism with female rats eating their young. There are compelling lessons to be taken from the Mautam incidents. It should be noted that the events in Mizoram are real and not the subject of a fictional story or movie. There are clearly parallels between the actions of the rats of the Mautam and the consequences of unbridled human activity and associated resource consumption. Consumerism in its earlier forms in balance with resource availability and the environment needs to be standard. The alternatives as depicted by Nature are too abhorrent to even consider and must be avoided at all costs.

-Dr. Alan Rozich

Photo credits: Dead Kennedys Logo, Patrick Henry Speaking to the House of Commons-Wikimedia Commons; Common Black Rat-Wikimedia Commons and Rathater