Consumption Dwarfs Population as Main Environmental ThreatIt's overconsumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem: By almost any measure, a small portion of the world's people--those in the affluent, developed world--use up most of the Earth's resources and produce most of its greenhouse gas emissions.
by Fred Pearce, excerpted from Environment360, April 13, 2009
By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world's people take the majority of the world's resources and produce the majority of its pollution.
Take carbon dioxide emissions--a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people--that's about 7 percent of the global population--are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.
The United States always gets singled out. But for good reason: It is the world's largest consumer. Americans take the greatest share of most of the world's major commodities: corn, coffee, copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, rubber, oil seeds, oil, and natural gas. For many others, Americans are the largest per-capita consumers. In "super-size-me" land, Americans gobble up more than 120 kilograms of meat a year per person, compared to just 6 kilos in India, for instance.
Sustaining the lifestyle of the average American takes 9.5 hectares, while Australians and Canadians require 7.8 and 7.1 hectares respectively; Britons, 5.3 hectares; Germans, 4.2; and the Japanese, 4.9. The world average is 2.7 hectares. China is still below that figure at 2.1, while India and most of Africa (where the majority of future world population growth will take place) are at or below 1.0.