Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ch. 3: Too Many Americans?

The authors of your textbook, Botkin and Keller, posit that the increasing size of the human population is the fundamental cause of all environmental problems. However, in Chapter 3 of Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman provides an elaborate explanation of what happens “when flat meets crowded,” and in so doing, illustrates that our impacts on environmental resources has to do with more than just our sheer population size.

1. Explain Friedman’s statement that there are increasingly “too many Americans.” Can you think of any of your own examples of this basic phenomenon (if not, just incorporate one of Freidman’s examples into your explanation)? Be sure that you make the link to environmental issues clear in you answer.
2. What barriers exist to solving this problem (of “too many Americans”)? If you were the Ruler of the Universe, how would you solve it?

This issue of affluenza on a global scale is tremendously important to understand. It also illustrates that environmental problems can’t be addressed by science alone; solving them requires a consideration of many social, political, economic, and moral issues as well.


  1. 1. When Friedman says there are "too many Americans," he means that there are too many people who want to (and now can) live the stereotypical American lifestyle -- to drive big cars, to live in big houses with big refrigerators and air conditioning, and to eat and buy and do whatever they want. The rise of the middle class in developing countries such as China and India means that there are far more people with the money and desire to live this lifestyle than ever before. These "Americans" want iPods and computers and everything else available for consumption, and it takes an enormous amount of energy and resources to meet their demands. To connect this to our school-wide reading... in The White Tiger, Balram describes how Mr. Ashok and the other rich people want to shop in American malls and eat pizza and do everything else the way Americans do, and an enormous amount of construction is underway in order to support the new middle/upper class and its American lifestyle, including practically the entire city of Bangalore. These new "Americans" take up more space, consume more, and use more energy than anyone else, and, quite reasonably, they want to do it in the cheapest and easiest way possible -- mostly inefficiently and wastefully. The resources they consume, the new spaces they require to live in, and the waste and fossil fuel emissions they cause contribute to global warming and environmental degradation.

    2. Lack of education and political will are important barriers to solving this problem. Many members of the new middle class in developing countries probably don't have the information that we in the Bay Area have about global warming and our part in causing and solving this issue. They probably don't know about alternative energy options, and even if they do, they probably don't see great reason to develop more sustainable lifestyles, just as many Americans don't. Apathy is a powerful factor -- change is hard for people, and many who know about climate change are abated by the eventual process of climate change and don't realize how quickly and drastically it's happening. I think this is true of everyone. Also, every country has other issues to focus on that may seem far more pressing than climate change, and these governments offer subsidies or incentives for traditional methods of energy production instead of renewable energies. The world we live in was built using inefficient and non-renewable sources, and finding other ways to continue to build the world will be difficult, especially as many people are unwilling to change. If I were the Ruler of the Universe -- I would probably crush our planet between my palms. But I suppose if I wanted to solve the issue, I would lock the leaders of every country in a room together and not let them out until they had sworn in blood to have carbon-neutral countries within fifty years. Then I would laugh as I watched them try.

  2. 1. When i think about the statement "too many Americans” is really the crowded part of his earlier argument. Too many americans is a problem especially when america uses more energy than countries like china, we america has a 1/4 the amount of people. the main problem is that a lot of people in america are uneducated about what they are doing to the environment. I think that until recently people didn't believe that global warming and that over crowding was a problem but now there really is no denying it. The facts are out and its up to the american people to change there ways. Crowding is extremely hard to fix but if people can find away to better use resources then crowding will be less of a problem right away.

    2. if i was the ruler of the world i would educate everybody on the the effect that they have on the environment. I would make sure that recycling was easily accessible. I know that places like new Orleans dont have recycling at all. I agree with anna that the world leaders should meet and come up with a universal environmental measure that could strictly enforce the rules so that we can save are planet before it is too late

  3. 1. What Friedman means by "too many Americans" is that there is a growing number of people who are trying to live out the "American dream," and are consuming the same amount that an American would. This means air conditioners, microwaves, computers, cars gasoline ect, all items which require the use of great numbers of natural resource. This increase in the number of people living like Americans is making the problem of global warming even more pronounced. America is already consuming more than its share of natural resources, and contributing disproportionately to the problem of global warming, so if more people are to take on an American style of living, it will only make the damage more devastating. The more people live like Americans, the more demand there will be for stuff, the more demand the more consumption, and in turn the more natural resources are used the more global warming will destroy the Earth.
    2. As Anna said, education is one of the barriers to solving the environmental crisis, but there are also two more roadblocks. First off, large companies are making large amounts of money doing things the way they do, and will work really hard to avoid changing their ways if it means losing their profit. Secondly, because America has been living the way it has, as a huge consumer, it is unfair for us to lecture other countries on how they should be more environmentally conscious. Rising countries are for the first time able to live an American life style, and until we stop living that way as well it is impossible for us to lecture them on their way of life. I suppose that if I were the ruler of the Universe I would further promote the research of cleaner fuel, but I guess that we need something much more radical to alter the path which we are already on. It will take a lot more than more research to change the amount of damage which we have already done, not to mention what lay in our future, and yet I don't have any better ideas. I guess this is why I am not the ruler of the Universe.

  4. The main problem with overpopulation is the concept of "affluenza" and the desire to live the "American dream" or lifestyle. Friedman describes this phenomena as there being "too many Americans". The desire to live the American lifestyle of overconsumption and opulence just because there is the opportunity to do so has spread to developing and developed countries like a disease, thus the term "affluenza". Combining affluence and the infectious abilities of influenza seemingly defines what is currently happening. In the United States we consume more than we really need because there is the desire to "keep up with the Jones'", to keep aspiring to have more to show a certain level of success. When someone is able to afford a nice house in a nice neighborhood and have all of the luxuries of the world, our culture has inherently ingrained an envy in us to aspire to have that. This envy per-say, is what drives the consumerism and the capitalism our nation depends on. The concept of the "American dream" is something that is part of our country's identity, the idea that the poor man or woman can make something of their life and become part of the richer community with hard work. As developing countries are developing stronger economic systems and as their middle class is growing and aspiring to this "American dream". They too want to have all of the luxuries of the middle or upper class and because of globalization and the growing middle class, they have more and more opportunities. In their process to live out their versions of the "American dream", they are consuming more and more without a care for the consequences or the resources it takes to produces those goods. They are building lavish megacities and buying things they never were able to have because they have the opportunity now. In a way they deserve it because they worked hard to develop the cities and countries in which they live in, but there also needs to be an awareness that not everyone can live that way. The "American dream" is flawed in many ways, but environmentally it does not take into account that opulence and affluence to the extent to which they are being lived out now, cannot happen on such a large scale. We will run out of resources to provide for such a lifestyle and have nothing to live off of. The example Friedman gave of Doha and Dalian is a perfect example of this trend. These previously minor cities in the Persian Gulf experienced growth in their economies and were able to profit from it. Doha and Dalian were unable to escape the flat and crowded trend and the affluenza trend; because they could expand and build themselves beautiful, grand cities, they did just that. The city planners, builders, local governments did not think of the impacts on energy consumption, raw materials, etc. They simply wanted to celebrate and live in their wealth, because to a certain extent according the "American dream" they deserved it. The affluenza that has inflected the world is about the individual and the community, there is a complete disregard to the environment.

    The main barrier that is faced is that as Americans, we need to change the definition of the "American dream" to something that celebrates individual success but in a sustainable way. If we were all to convene and start working as a global community to find ways to live in a more sustainable way, then United States could take those things into account and change the way we live our lives. Once developing countries and other developed countries see the new way to live out the "American dream" and why we must change the definition, hopefully they would follow in our footsteps.

  5. 1. In relation to what Brandon said earlier, I think that the “Americanization” of the world really has more to do with the “flat” part of the argument, as opposed to the “crowded” part. As the global middle class grows, the number of people who can and want to purchase gadgets, and adopt more modern lifestyles increases. My Father grew up in the Philippines and moved to U.S. when he was twenty-seven. He hasn’t returned visit his home country for nearly two decades. So most the stories that I have heard of the Philippines mostly consist of him riding water buffalos, or him and his ten siblings selling crops that they grew on their farm at the local market. My sister was lucky enough to visit the Philippines with her friend a couple of summers ago. When she returned, she told me that practically everywhere she went in Manila (the capital) there were malls selling American fashion. The problem of “too many Americans” is real, and it’s growing. Not only is there the issue of the resources and energy that must be used to fuel the consumerism, but also there seems to be a loss of interest in the natural world.

    2. If I could rule the universe, or at least the planet, I really have no idea what I would do. I agree with everyone in that more education about global warming is necessary. Knowing that there are still people even in the Bay Area that are not on board with the whole strange notion of “global warming,” that would be the first step I would take. Beyond that, I would be at a loss. The way that modern politics and government function really don’t allow for the quick, drastic change that is needed to solve this problem. It is so difficult to think about the world with cars and computers and other consumer goods. We have adjusted to such a fast pace lifestyle that I really can’t imagine society changing its way of life.

  6. Kevin

    1. The phenomenon of “too many Americans” occurs when the “flat” intersects with the “crowded” as what Friedman describes. Essentially, more people not just on North America are adopting the American lifestyle centered on consuming unnecessary amounts of the available yet finite resources of the world. People everywhere are now focusing not on needs, but wants. As burgeoning economies result in more disposable money in pockets, people will crave gas-guzzling SUVs, larger homes, and greasier, tastier, more exotic foods on their plates. More and more people in China and India are jumping into higher social classes and equaling Americans. As the middle class is inflating, oil wells are quickly drying up, with the carbon stored in the millions of year old remains of tiny organisms that once covered the planet being released thoughtlessly into the atmosphere. The incessant development of suburbs destroys pristine wilderness and will eventually force some animal species into extinction. Yet, there is no logical solution to halt the growth of those with higher standards of living, which will always be viewed as a positive force for mankind.

    2. It is nearly impossible to stop growth beside war and destruction as the last possible means. The leaders of modern India and China will no way want to stop their countries from being the great empires they once were. It is not exactly that more “Americans” is the problem. Americans are not necessarily the evil, greedy, or corpulent people the rest of the world think they are. Ignorant Americans who are unwilling to change the choices they make are the problem. The leaders of China and India should persuade or force if necessary to make their citizens behave wisely and consciously of their footprint on the environment.

    If I were the Supreme Ruler of All the Universe, I would create an exact duplicate of the earth, but without human beings, somewhere not too far off from our own earth. Maybe if the humans are responsible for their own destruction, the lucky few who make it out on large interstellar spaceships will have another chance to do it right by settling onto the duplicate world.

  7. 1.I think what Friedman means by "American", is a person who is in the middle or upper class, and has the choice and/or the desire to be a major consumer and to 'Live Big'. Nowadays, more and more people have the opportunity to at least rise to the middle class and create at least a little bit of this dream by demanding many resources and being major consumers. More and more people are moving into big cities, 'forcing' the government to remove remaining plots of the environment to create housing projects. People are also buying bigger and bigger cars (although that's kinda changing now...) which is adding to the amount of pollution in our atmosphere. Although it's not really the people's fault, since that truly is a desirable way of life, it is a highly destructive process. As the production of products increases, and the demand for land for that production increases, the "American way of life" is taking it's toll on the Environment in the form of Global Warming, and other looming disasters.

    2. I guess I agree with everyone else about educating the world's human population on global warming and other environmental problems if I were Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and I guess I agree with PG on being unsure of what other steps I would take. I might try bringing into office (that is if I chose a Democracy) people who are educated on the environmental issues, and I trust to make good decisions for the Earth and not just for the economy or for the sake of keeping their country on top. It seems to me that a major problem nowadays is that not enough people in power are educated enough on major environmental issues, to make good decisions, and even if they are, the issues don't seem to be brought up enough in governments...
    So that's what I would do I guess...

  8. When Friedman says “too many Americans” he is referring to the “American” lifestyle that many people in the world are adapting. He emphasizes that the world population increase will mean going from 1 billion “Americans” to 2 or 3 billion. I definitely agree that this spreading American lifestyle is directly related to growing flatness, because the “American” lifestyle is about consumption, and that is what is happening with the growing middle class. It is also definitely a result of globalization. The problem with the spreading of the American lifestyle is that we are big contributors to greenhouse gases, and the more people that aspire to be like us, the more emissions. When I was in Spain this summer, there were burger kings EVERYWHERE and that was the cool place to eat, and everyone went there. Although that doesn’t have a direct correlation to global warming, it shows how far America reaches. Everyone there was snobby about Americans but still ate our fast food.

    I definitely agree that a barrier is awareness/education about the problem. But also probably the bigger problem is that there are a lot of really powerful, wealthy people in favor of cheap oil from the middle east, and it’ll be hard to change something we’ve been doing for so long. If I were the big ruler girl, I would definitely try to educate people about the problem, because once people know about it they could use public opinion/political pressure to get the asshole oil lords out of the way. Or, like Anna said, I would lock country rulers and make them agree that they have to start working NOW to battle climate change. And I would make sure the US gets it’s butt in gear first so that people can copy a new, better American style

  9. 1. Over the last several decades we have exported our “Americanism” around the globe. As Friedman puts it “there are too many Americans” These aren’t just Americans in America, these are our wannabe followers around the world. Today around the world people are buying more and more crap. In many ways this concept of “too many americans” is synonymous with the world become more “flat.” There is simply too many people wanting too much. One of the simplest examples is McDonalds. 30 years ago McDonalds was limited to only the US, today it is difficult to travel anywhere in the world and not run into a pair of golden arches. This means more people are eating like Americans and our ridiculously unsustainable meet operations are spreading the world over. But it doesn’t stop here, there are countless examples in nearly every country of people wanting to be more like us. There is no denying that our American way of living is far from sustainable, and is a key contributor to our impeding global catastrophe. More Americans just means even more people living carbon intensive and environmentally devastating lifestyles.

    2. A large part of our problem is that yes, we have exported American lifestyles, but we have managed to send all our bad habits over seas and neglect to send along with it a healthy dose of American entrepreneurship, devotion, and broad global understandings. We created a problem, and as Friedman points out here in America we have what it takes to solve our portion of this catastrophe, unfortunately overseas this may not be the case. At the root of the problem lies awareness, you can’t fix a problem until you know it exists, and it may be another decade for people around the world to really take hold one what they are doing and how it is affecting our planet. Until real people in around the world step back and say “wow, maybe this Big mac in my hand and that coal fired powerplant in my backyard are the reason my entire village is flooded” can be even begin to address this problem. For the most part Americans are already becoming aware of the problem, and real change will be soon to follow, but our it may take longer for our American wannabes over seas. I know a lot of people above have said that change is needed at a governmental level, and that this is a problem that can be solved by those in charge. I disagree, change is in the hands of the people. Laws can only take us so far, until the people actually choose to act they are useless. Especially in third world countries this laws may be virtually unenforceable. And people with a large profit incentive will find every possible way to get around them. If I were world omni-god dictator man, I would work at an individual level, and make sure every person on this planet understood the need for real reform. This would insure that everyone would act to bring about this necessary change.