Ecological footprint United States
photo: Franz Drewniak/Creative Commons
Sometime later this year the human population will pass the 7 billion mark. As I write this we're at 6.9 billion and ticking upwards by about one person a second, or so the population clock at Global Population Speak Out tells me. Even with the widely (widely) disparate levels of natural resource consumption across nations by the end of August each year our collective ecological footprint begins outstripping the planet's ability to regenerate what we've taken-we start going into ecological debt. This depletion of natural capital is driven by a comparatively small percentage of the world's people in wealthy nations, but the impact of billions of people living at subsistence levels is not insignificant as well. In short, when talking about human's environmental impact you simply can't separate population growth and resource consumption-even if many people try to, pointing fingers at each other and carelessly invoking Malthus. When it comes down to it though the two play against one another, both bumping up against the hard ecological limits of the planet-as I've written about on a number of occasions.
There's one part of this debate that is all too often not mentioned by the environmental community, but should be: Equity.
Without going into specifics of my income (along with population growth another taboo discussion for some), in the United States I earn very nearly the median income in 2010 for my writing. Nevertheless, compared to all of the people on the planet I am in the top 0.91% of the richest people in the world, as the image above from the Global Rich List shows. Surely if this is the case those of us living in wealthy nations can afford and manage to adjust our lives so that there is a more equitable distribution of wealth both domestically and internationally.
5% of World's Population Uses 33% of Resources
Some stats to keep in mind, all come from the 2010 State of the World report from Worldwatch Institute as TreeHugger covered it at the time:
As it stands now, 500 million people on the planet (about 7% of the world population) is responsible for 50% of all CO2 emissions. At the other end of the scale, the bottom 3 billion people are responsible for just 6% of the total. The United States leads the world, with its 5% of world population roughly responsible for one-third of all global expenditures on goods and services.
If that level of resource consumption was extended globally, the planet could support just 1.4 billion people.