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Opinion: We can’t all live like Albertans

If everyone lived a western lifestyle, we would need five Earth’s worth of resources each year. It is not sustainable.
The Centre Street Bridge crosses the Bow River into Calgary

Not to pick on Alberta’s premier but during a recent CBC interview, Danielle Smith said she wanted everyone in the world to have the same standard of living as Albertans.

A utopian view. Certainly hard to argue against from an ethical point of view. Fairness would seem to dictate everyone in the world should enjoy the same standard of living we enjoy in North America. Doesn’t that seem right?

Realistically, it is not something that can happen. For many reasons.

Consider the consumption of resources in North America. We have a high standard of living compared to the world average but that also means we consume more. More smart phones which require rare metals and lithium batteries. More cars which require steel for the frames and rubber for their tires. More food which we import from all over the world.

Collectively, humanity is consuming 125 percent of the replacement capacity of the planet each year. (That is like spending $125,000 per year when you only make $100,000.) We are slowly draining the Earth of resources. Although the Earth is a big, the lifestyle we enjoy cannot continue indefinitely.

Nor can it be spread to the rest of the planet. If everyone lived a western lifestyle, we would need five Earth’s worth of resources each year. It is not sustainable.

This was made plain at the most recent climate conference. In his speech, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi said “a small section of mankind has exploited nature indiscriminately. But the whole of humanity is paying its price, especially the residents of the global south.”

India is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, accounting for 7.3 percent of the global total. But those emissions are generated by 1.43 billion people – roughly 18 percent of the world’s population. India’s per capita emissions were 2.76 tonnes or one-sixth of the per capita emissions in North America last year. Imagine the consequences if 1.43 billion people started living like Albertans.

To put it in perspective, Canadians emitted 15.43 metric tonnes per person last year. More than the United States. Triple the per capita emissions of the United Kingdom. And we have only 0.5 percent of the world’s population.

The world cannot afford everyone living like Canadians, let alone Albertans.

Todd Whitcombe is a chemistry professor at the University of Northern B.C.