|| Jared Diamond focuses on number “32” at Energizing Kentucky conference
RELEASED: April 23, 2009
DANVILLE, KY—Jared Diamond has been described as, not a single person, but “really a committee.”
A quick look at his resume explains why: he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Guns, Germs and Steel, The Third Chimpanzee, Collapse, Why is Sex Fun?); a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” Fellowship; a field researcher who has, among other locations around the world, led 19 expeditions to New Guinea and neighboring islands; a geneticist; a geologist; an archaeologist; and a linguist. Also, he speaks 12 languages, and in his spare time is a professor of geography at U.C.L.A.
Diamond was the keynote speaker at the third Energizing Kentucky conference held earlier this month in Lexington. The E.K. conference stemmed from a series of conversations among Centre College President John A. Roush, University of Louisville President James R. Ramsey, Berea College President Larry D. Shinn and University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd, Jr., in which they set out to join forces to “make a difference” in the Commonwealth. After several meetings, the four presidents decided to focus on energy production, consumption and conservation.
Early in his address Diamond made a simple numerical request: “If you remember nothing else about my talk tonight,” he said, “I’d like you to remember the number “32.” He went on to explain that the consumption rate (use of resources such as power, water, food, building materials—and the associated wastes produced) of the average U.S. resident is 32 times that of the average “Third World” resident.
He then pointed out that current consumption rates in China are about 11 times lower than those in the United States, but that if China were to catch up, consumption rates would double. If China and India caught up, world consumption rates would increase by a factor of three. And to complete the triple play, if all the earth’s population consumed at the rate of the United States (and other “first world” countries), it would be as if the world’s population had increased by a factor of 11—from 6.5 billion to 72 billion. No one, Diamond noted, not even the cheeriest of the world’s most optimistic scientists—believes the earth can support a consumption rate of 72 billion.
So does Diamond predict inevitable decline and doom? Not necessarily. While he maintains that current consumption rates are unsustainable and will have to be lowered, he is cautiously optimistic “because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates.”
He went on to say that a great deal of American consumption is wasteful and not necessary for a high quality of life. He cited the example of Western Europe, where per capita oil consumption is about half that in the United States, but living standards (e.g., life expectancy, infant mortality, quality of public schools) are generally higher than U.S. averages.
He also explained that in a number of areas we have the knowledge to produce resources in a sustainable way—using fisheries and forests as two examples— though we have not yet put those management techniques into widespread practice.
Diamond said that moving to pervasive sustainable practices would require political will and indicated that recent developments in countries such as the United States, Australia, and even China provided reason for encouragement.
He concluded on an optimistic note. “The world has serious consumption problems, but we can solve them if we choose to do so. The time to begin is now.”
The next morning after Diamond’s April 15 keynote, Carol Browner, top energy advisor to President Obama, spoke. She maintained that environmentalism and big business not only can coexist, but can also benefit each other.
“A healthy environment is good for the economy,” she said. “And a strong economy is good for the environment.”
Browner was followed by Len Peters, secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet of Kentucky, who outlined Gov. Steve Beshear’s strategy for energy independence, “Intelligent Energy Choices for Kentucky’s Future.” The presentation drew positive responses from legislative leaders and environmental activists. Steven Aumeier, head of the Idaho National Laboratory’s Energy Systems and Technologies Division, said the plan “considers an appropriate breadth of energy objectives” and should be a national model. He added that he intends to share the document with others around the country.
(For a listing of the seven points of Kentucky’s energy plan, click here.)
At the conclusion of the conference, which also included an impressive lunchtime session of poster presentations and energy-related projects by students ranging from second graders to Ph.D. candidates, the presidents of Berea, Centre, U.K., and U. of L., as well as the presidents of a number of other Kentucky colleges and universities met for an informal wrap-up and planning session. They agreed unanimously that the Energizing Kentucky conferences had been extraordinarily well received and that significant progress toward the Commonwealth’s goal of becoming a national leader in forward-thinking energy policy had already been made.
While further discussion is needed, the presidents concluded that an expanded effort would continue to generate constructive conversation involving business, education, and government in a coordinated effort by educators to move Kentucky forward and improve the lives of its citizens.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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