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Population and Energy Consumption

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.

One indicator of environmental impact is to measure our energy consumption. As much of our energy is consumed and depleted, it also is increasing pollution. And unlike a lot of environmental factors that are hard to measure, we have very precise records of how much energy is being consumed each year by each country of the world. So we can estimate how much environmental impact each country creates.

Click to Compare to USA
Population     Energy Consumption
China 1322413000
India 1131043000
USA 303545000
Indonesia 231627000
Brazil 185130000
Pakistan 161930000
Bangladesh 158665000
Russian Federation 142499000
Japan 127718000
Mexico 106535000
Philippines 88706000
Germany 82315000
Egypt 75498000
Turkey 74877000
Iran 71208000
France 64102000
Thailand 62829000
United Kingdom 60587300.78125
Italy 59206382.8125
South Africa 48577000
graph scale
Percent of Global Total

When you click on one of the countries at right, 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.

You may be surprised to see how much energy people consume... but remember that we're not just looking at their electricity bills! Every time you buy something, you're also buying all the energy that was used to produce that thing. Every time you pay your taxes, you're paying for photocopies, business trips, and air conditioning in government offices. In fact, on average, every time anyone spends an American dollar, the energy equivalent of half a liter of oil is burned to produce what that dollar buys!

Why single out the U.S.A.?

Why are we focusing on the United States? Because it consumes far more energy than any other country -- more than China and Russia put together. Just five percent of the world's population consumes 23% of its energy! That's really extravagant! Imagine if you wasted five times more gasoline as your neighbors... or five times more food... or produced five times more garbage. Your neighbors wouldn't be very happy! Yet, that's what we're doing.

How much energy does the average American consume? Well, if you list the countries of the world in order by their population (as we've done in the graph above), the U.S. comes in third... but the combined energy consumption of the other five largest added together doesn't match U.S. energy consumption! In other words, the 5% of the world's population that lives in the U.S. has more environmental impact than the 51% that live in the other five largest countries.

That's why we've singled out the United States for comparison here ... its energy consumption is truly extraordinary!

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 seven children, remember that she'd have to have more than 20 children to match the impact of an American woman with just one child. And an immigrant who moves to the U.S. is likely to consume far more energy just by moving here. Even if he scrimps and saves energy at home, every thing he buys will increase consumption of energy and other resources.

Data courtesy of BP, "Statistical Review of World Energy 2007;" and Wikipedia (compiled from various sources), 2007.

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