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World's wealthiest 16 percent uses 80 percent of natural resources

The U.S. alone consumes about 25 tons of raw materials a year for every man, woman and child  

October 12, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT (0345 GMT)

From CNN Correspondent Garrick Utley

NEW YORK (CNN) -- As scientists note the arrival of the six billionth human being on the planet, they also are warning that 16 percent of the world's population is consuming some 80 percent of its natural resources.

That's the estimated toll the wealthiest populations on the globe -- the United States, Europe and Japan -- are taking from the earth's natural bounty to sustain their way of life.

In the U.S. alone, says Emily Matthews of the World Resources Institute, every man, woman and child is responsible for the consumption of about 25 tons of raw materials each year.

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Americans, while making up only four percent of the world's population, operate one third of its automobiles. U.S. citizens consume one quarter of the world's global energy supply.

Perhaps a more graphic example is that of the lowly quarter-pound hamburger. To produce just one requires 1.2 pounds of grain to feed the cattle, and 100 gallons of water -- part of the hidden cost consumers never see.

According to some experts, it's not a scarcity of resources but rather pollution that poses the greatest threat  

Resources safe for now, but what about pollution?

Resources -- at least in the Western Hemisphere -- do not appear to be immediately threatened, leading some experts to reason that the real danger is not scarcity.

"We are really working our way through the ocean's harvest," says Matthews. "And I don't think we will run out of fish. We will substitute fish-farming for ocean fisheries."

And as other parts of the world continue to grow and develop -- Matthews believes projections of a global population of nine billion in 50 years are not unreasonable -- the pressures will become even greater.

Scientists believe during that period demand for energy will triple. So will manufacturing and, unless changes in the current way of doing things are made, so will pollution.

This may be the most serious problem facing the planet -- not how much is being taken away from it, but how much is being dumped back into it.

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The Day of 6 Billion
Facing the Future: People and the Planet
Zero Population Growth
Population Action International
Demography and population studies
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