The consumption patterns of countries of the industrialized world have produced demands on the environment highly disproportionate to the relative size of their populations. The natural resource base for such countries often extends far beyond their natural borders and environment.
Since 1950 the richest fifth of humankind has doubled its per capita consumption of energy, meat, timber, steel, and copper, and quadrupled its car ownership, greatly increasing global emissions of CFCs and greenhouse gases, accelerating tropical deforestation, and intensifying other environmental impacts. The poorest fifth of humankind has increased its per capita consumption hardly at all. Indeed, those in the poorest fifth average a cash income of less than a dollar a day, and those in the next fifth average only three dollars a day. This means that 40 percent of humankind accounts for a mere 6.5 percent of the world's income.
According to one estimate, the richest 5% of the world's population may exert as much pressure on environmental resources as the poorest 25%. A person in the USA is estimated to cause 100 times more damage to the global environment than a person in a poor country. Since 1940, people in the USA alone have used up as large a share of the earth's mineral resources as all previous generations of the world put together. By the time a baby born today in the USA reaches age 75, he or she will have produced 52 tonnes of garbage, consumed 162 million litres of water and used 3,375 barrels of oil.
The Wuppertal Institute has calculated that it takes 76 tonnes of materials per annum to sustain the lifestyle of the average German. 60 tonnes of this total is water. 29% is consumed in the provision of housing, 20% in the provision of food and 13% in leisure activities.
If everyone in the world consumed at the rate of Europeans and North Americans, the natural resource base would collapse and biosphere pollution would be intolerable. There is zero possibility that the world's population could live as people currently living in the wealthy countries.