I just finished reading a long, intense article in Fast Company about the relationship between China and Africa. At first blush, you might wonder what it has to do with you. Trust me, it has everything to do with you – and your children’s future. If you can bear with me, I will try to net out the big picture.
Let’s start here. Note the part that says, “the next 50 years” – that’s in our lifetime folks. All the quotes are excerpted from the article.
“Humanity, the doomster argument goes, is on a collision course with the natural world, and the signs are everywhere: shrinking forests, croplands, fisheries, and water tables; rising pollution and temperatures. During the next 50 years, if current trends continue, humans will use more energy than in all of previously recorded history. More environmental stress will mean less growth and will trigger more conflict -- bitter clashes among civilizations over a dwindling resource pie, mass migrations, "climate refugees," uncontained diseases caused by "superbugs" impervious to modern medicines, water wars, maybe even food wars. In other words, the world will become like an episode of Survivor, except you can actually die.”Essentially, the article explains in gut wrenching detail how we have abandoned Africa while China is rapidly depleting the country of its resources. We Western countries, with our high-minded principals – have done little (and participated in our share of the corruption) and the end game – holy crap 50 years!? – looks grim.
“When Bill Clinton was first elected president, the U.S. trade deficit with China was $18 billion. It is now $256 billion. Ravenous Westerners have become partners in Africa's environmental destruction.”I realize I am woefully uneducated in this area because my first thought is what can I do to make a difference? I have been working on “saving the planet” by doing my part to think green. But now I the situation is far more dire if the problem is that there won’t be any resources left because there are just too many of us consuming. Simply consuming. Much of it needlessly.
Even as we begin work on a series of home improvements, I have started to change the questions I am asking – are the products we are using made in China? What are they made from? Is that a renewable resource? Can we use products made closer to my home with materials that are easy to grow or produce?
It’s not much, but I am thinking if we all start asking these questions, cut down our consumption and therefore the demand of products manufactured in China, we might have at least an economic impact. The author makes the point that the Chinese aspire to be like us. Really? How many more Starbucks to we need? Is that really the epitome of a self-actualized life?
“Oxford's Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and a former head of research at the World Bank, is a leading expert on African economies. "I think the sad reality is that although globalization has powered the majority of developing countries toward prosperity," he says, "it is now making things harder for these latecomers." In other words, he says, Africa "missed the boat." And on a divided, demoralized continent, one where the United States has lost both its economic leverage and moral authority, Beijing can cherry-pick almost at will. That spells trouble not only for Africa but also for our ability to outthink the global consumption death spiral we have all set in motion.”It’s far easier for me to pull the covers over my head and focus on getting the kid to summer camp. But then I think about her future. We all make assumptions our kids will live lives similar to ours – but will they?
We are already experiencing economic changes in the U.S. that are rocking our world. We have made choices that won’t help us endure (driving cars that aren’t efficient, using food for fuel, but crap imported from China, allowing debt to be the norm rather than the exception).
I think it’s time to pull together. To make different, thoughtful choices. We need to ask our leaders to take a stand. And I think it requires introspection, prioritization and sacrifice. This is not going to be easy – at least not for me. But maybe we can do it. Don’t we have to for our kids?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the article and what you are doing in your life to adapt. Maybe you think I am nuts? Please let me know. Discussion is a great place to start.
PS: if you don’t want to read the whole article – it is really long – the last section is a good place to start. Read it here.