New Internationalist

Rush To Nowhere

Issue 343

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[image, unknown] SPEEDING UP
We speed up everything – our work, our entertainment, our consumption of resources, our travel, our communication systems, our expectations, our lives. Where we are going remains a mystery. But the costs of the journey are starting to mount.

. The World Economy has expanded from $4 trillion in output in 1950 to more than $20 trillion in 1995. Countries now industrializing are doing so much faster than in the past. The Chinese economy grew by a staggering 57% between 1991 and 1995.1

. If you were born before 1950 you have seen more population growth in your lifetime than in all of previous human history.1

. The Otis Elevator Company estimates that it raises and lowers the equivalent of the planet’s whole population every nine days. The original elevator traveled at eight inches per second. A special Mitsubishi elevator in a sightseeing tower in Yokohama holds the speed record of more than 40 feet per second – not a bad climb rate for an airplane.2

. It is estimated that up-to-the-second on-line trading now accounts for a quarter of all transactions by individual investors. This leads to unprecedented market volatility. In one three-hour period NASDAQ lost 13% of its value.2

. Products coming in 50% over budget are far more profitable than products coming in six months late.2

. Management consultants estimate that 95% of the products that will be on sale in 10 years do not yet exist.3

. Some 21% of customers proved willing to pay 35 cents to save themselves two seconds through automatic dialing a number just retrieved through information.2

. The New York Tracon flight-control center handles 7,000 flights a day, all moving five miles per minute on their consoles.2

. There will be 1.6 billion (27% of world population) cell-phone users worldwide by the year 2005.4

. Worldwide energy consumption is projected
almost to double between 1990 and 2020.5

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There are 500 million vehicles today, six times the number there were in 1950.

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While energy use doubled between 1900 and 1940, it quadrupled between 1940 an 1980 and on current trends will have done so again by 2020.

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While the US population doubled in the 20th century, materials consumed per head grew more than 10 times.

The other side of speeding up is running out – and we are running out of some of the essentials of life: breathable air in major cities, fertile soil, water to drink, trees, fish, time for reflective thought,
even sleep.

. Forests: At the turn of the 20th century Ethiopia was half covered with forest. Today trees cover less than 3 per cent of the land.6

. Sleep: The National Sleep Foundation in the US estimates that average sleeptime has dropped 20% over the past century. Sleep-disorder clinics have more than tripled in the US over the past decade.2

. Language: It is estimated that of the world’s 6,000 languages some 90% will be doomed within a century.7

. Water: There is a three-in-four chance that a body of water in Mexico is too contaminated to swim in.8

. Time and Money: The estimated cost of fuel consumed by US drivers caught in traffic delays in 1999 was $8.6 billion.8

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Some 20% of all bird species are now under threat of extinction.

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The amount of forested land in Africa and Asia is now less than 35% of what it was 200 years ago.

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The number of people with an assured water supply is projected to drop from 92% to 58% by 2050.

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This article was originally published in issue 343

New Internationalist Magazine issue 343
Issue 343

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