Day of 6 Billion



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» October 12
The Day of 6 Billion
» The Myth of Shrinking Population
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» Consumption & Resources
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The New Trends
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Consumption & Resources

During the 1990s, one U.S. citizen was consuming 30 times what one citizen of India did; developed nations were 20% of the world's population yet used two-thirds of all resources and generated 75% of the world's pollution and waste. (1) World consumption patterns were undermining the environmental resource base.

Yet the 1 billion people living in absolute poverty require increased consumption so as to alleviate their malnutrition, disease and illiteracy.

Consumption disparities are increasingly stark:

  • With world population at 6 billion and rising, the richest 20% of humanity consumes 86% of all goods and services used, while the poorest fifth consumes just 1.3%. The wealthy consume 45% of all meat and fish, use 58% of all energy produced and own 87% of the vehicles. (2)
  • Meanwhile, 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation, 1.3 billion have no access to clean water, 1.1 billion lack adequate housing and nearly 900 million have no access to modern health services of any kind. (2)
  • According to the United Nations, Americans and Europeans together spend $17 billion a year on pet food, $4 billion more than the estimated yearly additional amount needed to provide everyone in the world with basic health and nutrition. (2)

Production techniques are eroding the resource base:

  • The burning of fossil fuels has almost quintupled since 1950. Consumption of fresh water has doubled since 1960, and wood consumption (for household and industry use) is 40% higher than 25 years ago. (2)
  • Commercial fishing is threatened worldwide by over-fishing: one-quarter of all fish stocks are listed as "depleted" or in danger of being depleted; another 44% are being fished "at the biological limit." This is driven by export demand for animal feed and oils, not by food needs, but it strains the primary protein source for nearly a billion people in 40 developing nations. (2)
  • Producing a quarter-pound of hamburger requires 100 gallons of water, 1.2 lbs. of feed grain and energy equal to a cup of gasoline, causing the loss of 1.25 lbs. of topsoil and producing greenhouse gas emissions equal to a 6-mile drive in a typical U.S. automobile.(3) Americans each consume 260 lbs. of meat per year on average, most of it hamburger; the average in Bangladesh is 6.5 lbs. (2)

The trend is toward more consumption worldwide:

  • Global spending on advertising, which stimulates consumption, multiplied nearly sevenfold from 1950 to 1990, when the total was $257 billion, or $48 for each person on the planet. It has nearly doubled again since then, to $435 billion, and is increasing faster than incomes or population, especially in developing nations. (2)
  • Surveys of U.S. households found that the income desired to fulfill consumption aspirations doubled between 1986 and 1994. (2) The definition of "necessity" is changing worldwide.
  • Increased consumption is not producing a parallel increase in happiness. The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago has found that the proportion of Americans who say they are "very happy" has remained at about one-third since 1957, although personal consumption has more than doubled.(4)

Sources: (1) United Nations Population Fund, Population and the Environment: The Challenges Ahead (New York: United Nations, 1991); and R. Paul Shaw, "The Impact of Population Growth on the Environment: The Debate Heats Up," Environmental Impact Assessment Review, March-June 1992; (2) United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1998 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 5; Alan Durning, "World Spending on Ads Skyrockets," in Vital Signs 1992 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993); (3) Alan Durning, Ecological Wakes: The Story of Six Everyday Objects (Seattle: Northwest Environment Watch, 1994); (4) Alan Durning, How Much is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Fate of the Earth (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992)

September 1999