All industrial economies have high consumption rates, but the United States remains the world’s consumption champion. On average, Americans drink 50 gallons of cola per year. We burn more than our body weight in petroleum every week. While we may not think that we consume much, everybody has seen such numbers, plus health warnings about obesity and sedentary living, all suggesting that we consume more than is good for us. Nonetheless, cutting back is hard when the companies persuading us to buy don’t want us to cut back either.
Measured by GNP, mining, agriculture, and manufacturing are small parts of the economy. The lion’s share of it consumes. Governments consume resources. Service companies consume resources internally, and most of them encourage their customers to consume more and more besides.
However, the growth of our trash trails has slowed. During the last decade American solid waste leveled off at about 4.5 pounds per capita daily. Because of recycling and incineration, only about half of it goes to landfill, but total solid waste still grew 6 percent during the decade, equal to the increase in population. Waste disposal has stabilized, but it remains a big, messy problem.
Industrialized regions having less than 20 percent of the world’s population burns about 75 percent of the world’s energy. The remaining 80 percent of the global population can better use what is available to them, but can’t be expected to reduce the use of resources that they are barely using now. It’s pretty clear from whence the heaviest cuts and greatest imagination must come, but industrial societies can also apply more advanced technology to these goals.
Were there no real shortages, why anyone would want to use resources just to be using them makes no sense?