The population problem isn't just a matter of the number of people. People consume food, fresh water, wood, minerals, and energy as we go about our daily lives. And producing food, pumping groundwater, harvesting wood, mining minerals, and burning fuel all deplete our resource base and produce pollution.
One critical indicator of environmental impact is to measure our energy consumption. When you click on one of the countries in the graph below, you'll see how that country compares to the United States in the size of its population, the amount of energy it consumes as a country, and the amount of energy consumed per person.
Why single out the U.S.A.?
Why are we focusing on the United States? Because Americans make up only 5% of the world's population and yet consume 20% of its energy! That's really extravagant! Imagine if you consumed four times more gasoline as your neighbors... or four times more food... or produced four times more garbage. Your neighbors wouldn't be very happy! Yet, that's what we're doing.
In fact, on average, every time an American spends a dollar, the energy equivalent of a cup of oil is used to produce what that dollar buys! That's why we've singled out the United States for comparison here ... its energy consumption is truly extraordinary!
Population and Energy Consumption by Country
compare to USA
Hover over bar for actual data
|Percent of global total
Percent of global total
Population data source: Population Reference Bureau; 2007 World Population Data Sheet.
Energy data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration 2007.
What's the Point?
The purpose of this exercise isn't to blame people in rich countries for wasting energy, because for the most part they don't know they're doing it. It's not to say each person in a poor country is as poor as every other person in that country, because there are rich and poor people in every country. And it's not to imply that all we need to do is consume less energy and everything will be OK. The point is that the population problem isn't just something "over there" in "those poor countries," where they may be having more children. From a consumption perspective, the developed countries have a bigger population growth problem than the developing countries!
Next time you hear about a woman in India who has 7 children, remember that she'd have to have more than 10 children to match the impact of an American woman with just one child!