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UCLA Magazine Spring 2005
From Murphy Hall
Living La Vida 'Lorca'
Stress Fractures
What's at Stake
The Importance of Being Elma
House of Cards
The Quest
Through Women's Eyes
Dynamic Duo
Bruin Walk

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Spring 2005
House of Cards

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But low-impact people are becoming high-impact people for two reasons: rises in living standards in Third World countries whose inhabitants see and covet First World lifestyles; and immigration, both legal and illegal, of Third World inhabitants into the First World, driven by political, economic and social problems at home. Immigration from low-impact countries is now the main contributor to the increasing populations of Europe and the U.S. By the same token, the overwhelmingly most important population problem for the world as a whole is not the high rate of population increase in Kenya, Rwanda and some other poor Third World countries — although much discussed. The biggest problem is the increase in total human impact, as the result of rising Third World living standards, and of Third World individuals moving to the First World and adopting First World living standards.

There are many “optimists” who argue that the world could support double its human population, and who consider only the increase in human numbers and not the average increase in per capita impact. But I have not met anyone who seriously argues that the world could support 12 times its current impact, although an increase of that factor would result from all Third World inhabitants adopting First World living standards. (That factor of 12 is less than the factor of 32 that I just mentioned because there are already First World inhabitants with high-impact lifestyles, although they are greatly outnumbered by Third World inhabitants.) Even if the people of China alone achieved a First World living standard while everyone else’s living standard remained constant, that would double human impact on the world.

People in the Third World aspire to First World living standards. They develop that aspiration through watching television, seeing advertisements for First World consumer products sold in their countries and observing First World visitors to their countries. Even in the most remote villages and refugee camps today, people know about the outside world. Third World citizens are encouraged in that aspiration by First World and United Nations development agencies, which hold out to them the prospect of achieving their dream if they will only adopt the right policies, like balancing their national budgets, investing in education and infrastructure, and so on.

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