Supply and Demand

This green and pleasant landAccording to the recent David Attenborough programme ‘How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?’ the world’s population has more than tripled, going from 2 billion to 7 billion in under 100 years. Apparently, the human race is not breeding much more than they used to but we aren’t dying as much as we used to. Science and technology have allowed us to survive where drought, disease and other natural disasters would previously have killed us in our millions.

However good those developments may be, it does mean that the earth’s resources are already stretched to the limit and as the population continues to grow, it won’t be long before demand outstrips supply by some considerable way. Here are some scary facts which I have taken directly from the programme (so please don’t complain to me if they’re inaccurate):


We “appropriate” more than half of the world’s available fresh water, a lot of it going to overrule Mother Nature as we supply water to desert locations in which man was never really meant to live. Most of us are aware these days of how we waste water at home, but we’re almost completely unware of the water footprint of other things we consume. For example, it takes:

8000 litres of water to produce a hamburger
120 litres of water to produce a cup of coffee you buy from a coffee shop
150 litres of water to make a can of beer
3000 litres of water to produce enough cotton to make one shirt


International corporations and governments are leasing the remaining undeveloped land around the world and subjecting it to intensive farming methods in order to ship food home. For the most part, that land comes from places that struggle to produce enough food for the people who live there and if, as scientists predict, global temperatures increase by 2-3 degrees over the next century, food will become even more scarce in the future. As the population is likely to have increased to approximately 9 billion by then, that’s a lot of extra food to produce in even more challenging conditions.


The world uses 85 million barrels A DAY.

Global Hectares

A global hectare is a bit like a carbon footprint. It describes how much of the world’s resources we use. Professor William Rees has measured the productive bio-capacity of the world in global hectares – basically how much food, water and energy the earth can produce in a year. A fair distribution of the globe’s annual resource production is 2 global hectares per person in the world. In reality though, based on our consumption rates, this is how many global hectares are used by people in these countries:

Africa – 1.37
India – 0.89
China – 2.11
Europe – 4.45
UK – 5.33
USA – 9.42

The world’s population is currently around 7 billion people. If the entire world consumed as much as the average Brit (using our 5.33 global hectares each), the planet would only be able to sustain 2.5 billion people and that number drops to 1.5 billion people if we all consumed the same 9.42 global hectares as the average American.

Those are some pretty bleak figures and if we assume that the science in the programme is correct, then we’re probably all going to be on rations by 2050. Either that or the looting will have started. However, at least that gives us 30 or 40 years to practice some victory living. Maybe I’ll be able to grow spinach by then…

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