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Not long ago; or, Little by little (9): Car ownership in China 1999-2019

The proponents of this unrealistic scenario [of reduction in global demand for goods] allow merely a factor-of-two increase across all modes of mobility during the next three decades in what they call the Global South… and a factor of three increase in the ownership of consumer goods.

But in the China of past generation, growth has been on an entirely different scale: in 1999 the country had just 0.34 cars per 100 urban households. In 2019 the number surpassed 40. That is more than a 100-fold relative increase in only two decades.

In 1990, 1 out of every 300 households had an air conditioning window unit; by 2018 there were 142.2 units per 100 households: a more than 400-fold rise in less than three decades.

Consequently, even if those countries whose standard of living is today where China’s was in 1999 were to achieve only a tenth of China’s recent growth, they would experience a 10-fold increase of car ownership and a 40-fold increase in air conditioners.

Why do the prescribers of low-energy demand scenarios think that today’s Indians and Nigerians do not want to narrow the gap that separates them from China’s material ownership?

Vaclav Smil – How the World Really Works [amazon]

Those numbers are amazing… And it’s also worth noting that in 2022 the rate of car ownership in China was around one-quarter of the rate in the U.S (221 per person vs 890 per person – sorry not to have these figures in households as per Smil!) .

See also:

Little By Little 1: Raymond Briggs on 1940s Britain
Little By Little 2: Li Kunwa on indoor plumbing in 1980s China
Little By Little 3: Scarcity and Subsistence in rural Suffolk in the 1900s
Little By Little 4: Dolly Parton on the scar on her toes (rural poverty in 1950s Tennessee)
Not long ago; or, Little by little (5): Tyler Cowen on progress in living standards since 1900
Not long ago; or, Little by little (6): New York Tenement, 1889
Not long ago; or, Little by little (7): Fred Dibnah, Steeplejack – health and safety edition
Not long ago; or, Little by little (8): Singapore market, early 1970s


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