Which countries can still grow, who should shrink? The world along the scale

According to proponents of the degrowth movement, stopping growth is the only way to prevent humanity from draining the Earth. A clear message with far-reaching results. After all: surely in the rich West we will have to bid farewell to a part of our way of life, because it is beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth.
At the same time, countries that are still well below those levels, in terms of income, CO2 emissions or otherwise, must be given room to grow. To suspend the world as it is today in the present relationship between the rich and the poor is absurd: in the sense that it is a coincidence that one country is prosperous and the other is living in poverty. In any case, the populations of countries in relative poverty must be given the opportunity to grow towards the average.
There are many things that can be argued against the halting growth scenario. For example, some believe that people with all their creativity should be able to solve problems technically without having to use the handbrake. Others want to slim down, but not shrink. Still others think it’s all nonsense anyway.
In this article, the assumption is: it is no longer allowed to grow. As a result, everything that humanity now owns must be redistributed or reduced to a level that the Earth can still support. Income and wealth can be redistributed globally, to give everyone an equal starting position. Earth dictates the limits of natural resources, emissions, and biodiversity.
The question that follows is: What does that mean in concrete terms, for people in the Netherlands, in Europe, in Africa, for the whole world? W: How do you explain who is allowed to grow and who has to shrink? Where is there still room and space in the system and where are the boundaries actually being crossed?

1Pen rallies

In the early 1970s, the Dutch economist Jan Bean coined the metaphor of supply to provide insight into the differences in income. His starting point was simple: prepare an offer for all the Dutchmen according to their income and let this offer pass you by within an hour. Low earners first, high earners last. Equal average income with average height and you’ll see who are the youngest, literally and figuratively, and who are the tallest. This resulted, in Benn’s words, “a display of dwarves and some giants.”

Income Parade

For a number of years, Statistics Netherlands has adopted this Pen system and posts appear regularly where Dutch families walk past like dwarves and giants. Latest around 2020assuming an average height of 1.74 meters, which corresponds to an average household income of €32,400.
In the first minute people pass upside down. These are mostly entrepreneurs with passive income. After that first minute, the dwarves appear, a few tens of centimeters long at most, and most of them are people on benefits or very low incomes. Half an hour later, the length of the procession participants had already increased to 1.52 meters, which is still less than the average of 1.74 meters. The average family passes after 37 minutes. Within minutes from 50 to 58 something goes fast: the family’s income rises to more than 75,000 euros (body height is about 4 meters). Spectators have to pull their necks at the last minute: giants of real income pass, with an average length of 9.42 meters (more than 175,000 euros in annual income).

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Those who want to ‘flatten’ the distribution of income and wealth in the Netherlands (after all, growth is no longer possible, redistribution is the mantra), so statistically speaking, most Dutch people will be happy: more people will be able to grow in income and wealth to reach average. Which forces people to hand it over. However, the pain it inflicts on high-income (and wealthier) people is significant.

fortune parade

In terms of strength, Ben’s review is more extreme. For the first nine (!) minutes, the showrunners went upside down: these are hundreds of thousands of Dutch people who are more in debt than their assets (and therefore have negative assets).

At the tenth minute, dwarves of a few centimeters in length appear: people with a fortune of a few thousand euros (savings, for example), and half an hour later, halfway through, families with a fortune of 60,500 euros pass by. They are still dwarves, only 45 cm tall. The average family passes per minute 45 only with a height of 1.74 meters and an average fortune of 231,900 euros. Millionaires come to the picture at the last tail of the procession: from the 58th minute they appear on the screen (average height: 9 meters 66 centimeters). The last 60 seconds of the true giants. It has an average length of more than 33 meters, assets are on average 4.4 million euros (in this category also billionaires with a length of kilometers), they raise the average significantly at the last moment).

2 The march is international

The differences are already big within the Netherlands, but what does the Benn review look like internationally? If the premise is that the world cannot grow more, and therefore a more equitable distribution of current income, wealth, carbon dioxide emissions and land use is needed, then who are the dwarves that are allowed to grow. And who lives (far) beyond his means?
First of all, Pen’s primary parade, Income Show. For international comparison, median per capita income in dollars was chosen. This is calculated by dividing a country’s total gross domestic product by its population. The average income in the world is about 10,500 US dollars per person. If we equate this to the average height of a citizen of the world, about 1.65 meters, the following view will appear.

As in the Dutch situation, income redistribution would therefore place the vast majority of the world in a plus category (the vast majority of the world’s population is below average). And just as in the Netherlands, the suffering of the wealthy is enormous: residents of a country like the Netherlands would have to give up, on average, 80 percent of their income (US$50,000) to reach the world average. Globally, the Dutch are giants that reach more than 8 meters in length.

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3 planet boundaries

Income redistribution is a free choice in a sense. You can do that, you can’t do it and let the inequality run its course. The situation varies with the categories in which the land sets limits, such as carbon dioxide emissions, land use or biocapacity.
First, carbon dioxide. Sure enough, the Earth is capable of storing a total of 21 gigatons of carbon dioxide in soil, oceans and biomass. Converting it to the amount of carbon dioxide per person, it amounts to approximately three tons of carbon dioxide per person. If we go beyond that, every ton of carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to global warming, with all the dire consequences that ensue.
The global average is already 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide per capita per year. That’s 1.5 tons per person too much. So, in this “carbon pen width”, it’s not the average that is the measure, but the maximum of 3,000 kilograms of CO2 per person. Based on those boundaries, which countries still have room to grow, which countries have reached their maximum limits, and which countries are crossing the limits?
The World Bank has provided an overview of per capita CO2 emissions that forms the basis of this presentation. If all the countries of the world (taking into account their population) pass again within an hour, then the first 11 minutes pass by small bombers. Many poor countries in Africa and Asia hardly have a carbon footprint. Somalia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Bangladesh, and Nepal: all (far) less than one tonne of carbon dioxide per capita.

At the top of the list – but still well below the cap – we find countries such as Brazil, Gabon and the Dominican Republic. The higher we get on the list, the more we will enter Europe and the rest of the advanced economies. Romania and Portugal are still just under 4 tons per capita, and Ireland and New Zealand already have 7 tons per capita. Closing in is Palau in Oceania, which emits more than eighteen times as much as the Earth can handle more than 55 tons of carbon dioxide per person.
So redistributing carbon rights, just like redistributing income, will hurt many advanced economies. The good news is that there are now concrete plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The Paris climate agreement has already translated into policies in many countries that will eventually lead to a zero-emissions world. The road there is still a long way to go, but the redistribution has begun.

4 We lack the land

The ultimate measure of Earth’s depletion is biological capacity. According to the Global Footprint Network research institution, biocapacity is the amount of food and raw materials the Earth can produce in one year and the emissions that forests and oceans can absorb. It is a definition of the ability of ecosystems to constantly renew natural capital. Whoever manages to survive in it simply saves the Earth. The maximum is 1.6 global hectares (gha) per person, as a result of the total land surface that humans can use (in hectares) divided by population. Based on the current consumption pattern, a country like the Netherlands would need 5.69 g per person.
Since 1971 – a year before the famous report The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome, an international group of entrepreneurs and scientists – the relationship between what humanity uses and what the Earth can provide has been skewed. And this is at the expense of the land. It is only in recent decades that this ratio has become more skewed, mainly due to population growth. The world’s population now uses a biocapacity that is not available on one, but on 1.75 Earths on an annual basis. So every year we use 75 percent more than what is available. Earth Transcend Day (the day we used everything that already exists) falls on July 28 this year, so in a few weeks. Free for Loesje: We always have a little bit of a year at the end of our planet.
Thus, the so-called “Earth-Earth Parade” presents a humiliating image. As it has been said: On average, the world is already using more than is available, and the population on the right side of the line (within one land bound) is alarmingly small. The maximum is already reached after more than 24 minutes, so when a third of the world’s population has passed. Chad and Myanmar are the last two countries to have a lifestyle that moves within the borders of the present land.

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The Dutch eat their way of life each year on what 3.45 land can save, and Americans sit on an average of nearly 5 land per person. And if everyone lived like people in Qatar, it would take more than 8.5 of the land. And just to be clear: there is none.

4 Giant mission

So getting back to the limits of what is possible is an enormous task. Among the major consumers of land, this must undoubtedly be coupled with stability with less. The better the rich countries do their best to combat attrition, the more room there is for the poor countries to advance further into prosperity.

Of course, this statistical exploration is a snapshot. As mentioned, the global trend of carbon dioxide emissions is now downward. This indicates that it is possible to reduce if the will is there and governments are committed to it.

Saving the Earth, similar to Jan Bean, is essentially a task undertaken by a few giants. Out of altruism, to give dwarves a chance to relate at least part of the current life achievements. And if that’s not enough, that’s also out of self-interest, because the giants still need solid ground under their feet.

animation Emilian Stavast

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