Fast facts – consumption statistics

First published March 2009, last updated May 2012

Sometimes it can be difficult to relay to people just how much we consume; particularly to those of us in developed countries.

While purchasing green this and eco-friendly that is all well and good; one of the root causes of our environmental problems is hyperconsumption. At a personal level, it’s disturbing – but collectively, it’s simply mind-boggling.

We simply buy too much of what we don’t need and often even what we don’t really want. 

The following are some statistics on consumption relating to various goods, services and resources we use.

  • 12 percent of the world’s population lives in North America and Western Europe and accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, but a third of humanity who live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for only 3.2 percent. WorldWatch Institute
  • In 1950, the global population was 2.6 billion people. We had 53 million cars – which works out to be one car for every 50 persons. When Earth’s population hit 6 billion people, there were 500 million cars – more than one car for every dozen inhabitants. Sierra Club (lots of fascinating facts on that page)
  • If the Chinese consume resources in 2031 at a level that Americans do now, grain consumption per person there would climb from around 600 pounds today to around 2000 pounds needed to sustain a typical western diet. This would equate to 1,352 million tons of grain, equal to two thirds of all the grain harvested in the world in 2004. OneWorld
  • In 1960, Americans consumed 144 pounds of meat and poultry per person on average. In 1999, that shot up to 190 pounds – but predictions for 2012 estimate it drop back to 166 pounds. CME Group.
  • Grazing occupies over a quarter of the Earth’s terrestrial surface and feed crop production requires about a third of all arable land. UN FAO
  • Global oil production is currently about 74 million barrels a day and is predicted to fall to 39 million barrels a day by 2030 due to diminishing resources (see Peak oil). Source: Energy Watch Group via Guardian
  • Global oil consumption grew from 59.9 million barrels a day in 1980 to 86.9 million barrels a day in 2010. IndexMundi. In 2010, consumption exceeded production by over 5m barrels per day for the first year ever. The Economist.
  • In 2005, gasoline consumption per capita in North America was 1,618 litres per person, whereas in developing countries it was 61.4 litres per person. World Resources Institute.
  • Between 1980 and 2010, global consumption of dry natural gas rose from 53 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) to 113 Tcf. US Energy Information Administration.
  • Almost 40 percent of the USA’s corn crop is used to make ethanol.
  • Global coal consumption in 1980 was 3,752,183 thousand short tons. In 2010, it was 7,994,703 thousand short tons. Coal consumption is projected to grow at about 2.5% per year over the next 20 years. IndexMundi
  • The uptake of air-conditioners continues to grow, with 144,300,000 units expected to be sold between 2011 and 2017 (ACR News). Air conditioners place one of the heaviest loads on electricity infrastructure; creating a need for peak power plants that may only operate for a few days each year. 
  • There are now an estimated 6.6 billion cell phones in use (Wikipedia). In the USA, the average time between upgrading phones is 18 months, even though most phones will still be functional.
  • Industrialized nations, representing only 20% of the world’s population, consume 87 percent of the world’s printing and writing papers and global production in the pulp, paper and publishing sector is expected to increase by 77% from 1995 to 2020. The pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in OECD countries and is the third greatest industrial greenhouse gas emitter, after the chemical and steel industries. Co-op America
  • One American’s consumption of resources is equal valent to that of 35 Indians. Over a lifetime, the typical American will create 13 times as much environmental damage as the average Brazilian. Sierra Club via CNN
  • South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world, yet its inhabitants’ water consumption is 509 litres per day per person (2009/2010) according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics . Australia’s average per person water consumption was 493 litres per day.  In the USA, average water consumption per person in 2008 was 575 litres daily. China’s daily per capita consumption in 2006 was 86 litres according to Data 360 
  • Freshwater withdrawals have tripled over the last half-century and demand for freshwater is increasing by 64 billion cubic meters annually. Worldometers.
  • In 2009, 8,454 million gallons of bottled water were consumed in the USA. BottledWater
  • The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today. WasteOnline
  • Total crude steel production for the 60 countries reporting to the World Steel Association for February 2012 was estimated to be 121 million tonnes. Steel On The Net.
  • The USA’s electricity consumption per capita is 12,747.098 kWh per year and over 70% of that electricity is generated via fossil fuel. Australia’s consumption is 10,864.152 kWh per capita, with 90.8 % fossil fuel dependent. German consumption is 6,366.428 kWh per capita with only 61.8 % of that fossil fuel generation dependent. NationMaster
  • Between 2000 and 2005 around 10 million acres of forests were lost per year in South America, which incorporates the mighty Amazon forest. The land is cleared primarily for cattle ranches and soybean plantations. Only 20 – 25% of  Brazilian soybeans are used domestically; most is exported overseas for use in food, textiles and increasingly – cattle feed. Choices Magazine and Monga Bay
  • The food we eat now typically travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles from farm to our dinner plate (also known as food miles). The distance had increased by up to 25 percent between 1980 and 2001. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University
  • To grow a pound of wheat requires around 130 gallons of virtual water. For meat, depending on the type – multiply that by five to ten times. Water Footprint
  • Glyphosate accounts for around 25% of the global herbicides market. From 2004 to 2008, the average growth rate of global glyphosate reached 27 percent and the total consumption volume has reached about 600,000 tonnes. Farm Chemicals International.
  • 148 million hectares of genetically modified crops were planted in 29 countries in 2010, with over 66 million hectares planted in the USA alone. The Economist.

It’s frightening stuff. Readings statistics like these has certainly helped me stop and think “do I really need this” when shopping and using utilities. It’s not just a guilt trip; this also helps save money to go towards things that really matter!

Remember that hyperconsumption can also extend to buying “green “. Our thinking is that if something is labelled environmentally friendly, then we can use more of it, but we really need to bear in mind that however earth friendly a product may be, it still requires energy to produce, resources to create and transport to get it to us. Even in the world of green shopping it’s still a case of everything in moderation.