2012-08-17

What Would Happen If The Entire World Lived Like Americans?

How many natural resources would we need if the entire world’s population consumed them like Americans do? More than we have.

After making an infographic depicting how much space would be needed to house the entire world’s population based on the densities of various global cities, Tim De Chant of Per Square Mile got to thinking about the land resources it takes to support those same cities. "Just looking at a city’s geographic extents ignores its more important ecological footprint," he writes. "How much land would we really need if everyone lived like New Yorkers versus Houstonians?"

As it turns out, data on the resources gobbled up by cities can be hard to measure--impossibly so, in many cases. But we can measure the resources used by people in entire countries. With a little help from the National Footprint Account from the Global Footprint Network, de Chant was able to show how much space we’d need if the entire world’s population consumed resources in the manner of Bangladesh, India, Uganda, China, Costa Rica, Nepal, France, the U.S.A., and the United Arab Emirates. The graphic compares those countries’ terrestrial sub-footprints, taking into account components like land use, carbon footprint, urbanization, fishing grounds, and more.

The result is, in many ways, the opposite of de Chant’s earlier work. While everyone in the world could fit into a small chunk of America if they all lived in the density of New York, the world wouldn’t survive at all if everyone in the world decided to consume like those New Yorkers (or any Americans). While those of us in the U.S. consume enough resources to take up 4.1 Earth’s worth of resources, the only reason we haven’t eaten through everything is that the rest of the world is balancing us out by using far more reasonable percentages of the Earth.

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19 Comments

  • Diffrentdrummr

    What would happen If the world was as productive as the U.S.?
    What if their private property rights were safeguarded, if contracts were honored more than bribes, if investments in risky ventures were given a fair return, if there was free exchange of goods and services and currency, if earnings or profits were not grabbed by greedy despots or lazy bureaucrats?
    What if?
    Maybe other countries would be as productive and enjoy the fruit of the labor.

  • coalminds

    How would everybody in the world win the way America does? The question doesn't make sense, I know it's designed to "illustrate a point" but illustrations still need some sort of logic.

  • bobthemoron

    There would be peace among the nations.   Resources would increase exponentially to fill the gaps.  Americans have always managed to overcome everything except Liberal/Progressive politicians and ideologue bureaucrats.

  • eichelbug

    Dear Mike Hunt,
     "perhaps you should re-evaluate your overly self righteous and single
    minded perspective.  
    the world is more complex than your view of it."....
    as, I might add, is history and your tenuous grasp of it.
    I would wager you enjoy Fox "News", don't own a passport, and reliably vote republican.
    I very much enjoyed your authoritative statement;
     "here's another example:  africa.   it used to be under english
    administration (no, not english rule) during this century...."
     To begin with, we are in the 21st century. Have been for over a decade now.
    The English maintained colonies on the continent of Africa during the 19th & 20th centuries, as did many European countries including France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Portugal, and Belgium. I may be omitting a few.
    You seem entirely unaware that Africa is not a country, but a continent comprised of some 40 odd countries, most of which owe their modern borders to the very process of colonization and division.
     Colonization was a process spurred by the Malthusian fear of exponential population growth in relation to limited resources based on the discovery of the world being in fact round, not flat, and therefore finite in it's resources. Colonization was then, as is global corporatism (and "free" trade) now, ALL about resource extraction.
    Perhaps you should read "Confessions of an Economic Hit-man" by John Perkins to gain some grasp of the reality politics and "free" trade as they are practiced in the world.

  • KongRooo

    Thats easy, the majority would be working for the wealthy corporations, barely able to scrape by, if that, while the corporations get filthy richer, its the American way lol.

    Total-Privacy dot US

  • Mike Hunt

    this article is horribly misguided.  first off, it doesn't consider exports of places like the US, which use up land in order to provide for people in other countries.  not to mention it doesn't take into account the vast amounts of untapped resources, which equals up to more than mankind has consumed in total thus far. 

    if anything, this lends more to the fact that there are too many people in these other countries, than americans being over extended.  the problem is, that we have a few billion too many people.  that is not the fault of places like america.  technology may change all that and increase efficiency, but that's besides the point.

    this doesn't mean we should lower ourselves to their level, just so they can rise to ours.  it's a tug of war between what we use vs. the over population of other countries......and overpopulation is losing.  china for instance, has crapped out an entire US population size since the 1 child policy was enacted.....and they'd be at nearly 2 billion without it.  India has well over 1 billion people.  are you implying it's ok to have more people as long as they consume less resources?  I see that line of thinking more as a stranger taking from my childs mouth in order to feed their excessive amount of offspring.  

    quality of life typically beats quantity of life.  so where you see a problem with consumption, I see a problem with unsustainable population.

    the problem with people like you, is that you see 'disparaged' people in 3rd world countries and never wonder how they got that way in the first place.  for example, don't you think a woman with 1-2 children in africa would have an easier time feeding her children than if she had 7 mouths to feed?  

    so instead of ragging on countries for making something of themselves and advancing civilization, how about you think of all of those billions of people that exist only because population is left unchecked.  that is the real travesty here.

    it's easy to see how uninformed and misguided your point of view is based on how you interpreted the data. 

  • Mike Hunt

     Jennifer Wallner Goetz,

    you've forgotten one simple concept:  freedom. 

    which means they are free to waste things.  the alternative would be every calorie accounted for, a society where consumption of everything is strictly regulated.   who decides when a person who worked for something, shouldn't be wasting what they've worked for? 

    let's say we fed every single starving person on this planet, gave them access to clean water.....all at enormous expense to us.   then what?  don't you get it.....we will just have billions of more mouths to feed.....and billions more after that.  many of these people don't want our education or our ways...which is often co-existent. 

    you feed all of these people, then natural selection and survival of the fittest dies.  you end up with an ever increasing number of mouths to feed, because they will consume and consume, then reproduce.  their populations are already out of control.  you think that a human that doesn't use electricity or modern invention doesn't consume nor pollute?  think again.  why do you think many of these people are where they are? because they've raped their own land.  an example of how much humans can impact an environment; the chinese armies centuries ago drank WHOLE rivers dry....literally.  there are rivers in china that no longer exist because they have been drank dry.   the same goes for land.   when I settle on a desert, I don't deserve to have people feel sorry for me for having no crops or water.  and speaking of water, much of it is undrinkable because they've polluted it.  all that lack of technology, and they can still destroy an entire ecosystem by being natural humans.  did the US pollute india's waters?  no.   did the US pollute haiti's waters?  no. they crap in it....literally. 

    are we stealing their water?  no.  the US gets most of its water from underground wells and the lakes within its own borders.  the US also exports plenty of crops and farm animal meats.  and without the things the US imports from foreign countries would be lost profit, and therefore lost prosperity. 

    obviously another country is going to be different wealth wise when its main exports are bananas, compared to something like creating new useful technologies.  would you rather live without bananas....or without the internet?  I think forced to make a decision, the answer would be you can live with not eating another banana ever again.   oh but wait....now you've condemned a whole country of lost exports because you'd rather have something you like more instead.

    that choice is freedom.  if I want to buy 100 loafs of bread and feed them to birds in the park...I should have the right.  without freedom we are slaves.  and there's soo many poor and hungry people on this planet in third world countries that we could spend every single second of every single day of every single year for the rest of our lives working just to help them....and guess what?  it still wouldn't be enough.  the US makes up 1/25th of the world population.....300 million people can not hold billions on their back, especially when that population is ever growing. 

    even if the US consumed less, that would NOT, I repeat WOULD NOT mean the poor across the world would be any better off....they'd most likely be worse off.  our consumption benefits them.  the lack of our consumption does not. 

    perhaps you should google "immigration by numbers" and watch the lecture. 

    and maybe your gripe shouldn't be with the US for wanting things....perhaps it should be with the foreigners who are more than happy to sell things to the US. 

    who's the real bad guy -- the guy who sells 'bananas' to the US while his people starve.  besides that, many of these poor countries are poor because they have little to offer.  that is not our fault, nor our problem.  do you see the homeless guy who comes up to you and asks for change, as your problem?  why not?  because he doesn't have black skin and isn't from ethiopia? 

    perhaps you should re-evaluate your overly self righteous and single minded perspective.   the world is more complex than your view of it.  

  • Mike Hunt

     I can't even believe you would stoop so low as to say it's the 'white
    mans' fault for the suffering these third world countries have brought
    on themselves.  your world view is obviously distorted.  guess what,
    whites make up a very small percentage of the planets population. guess
    what again, there has always been more white slavery than slavery of any
    other race, in all of history, until this very day.   right now in the
    world, there are more white slaves floating around than the amount of
    black slaves that ever existed.  yep, that's a bonafide FACT.  bet you
    never considered that. 

    you give reasons why they are how they
    are, but somehow disconnect and don't see it as their fault at all. 
    it's simple to understand that having less children = more resources to
    go around.  take the blame off them all you want, that still doesn't
    make it anyone elses fault but their own. 

    these countries
    aren't crap because outsiders made it that way, they're crap because the
    people who live there made it that way. 

    here's a prime example: haiti.  it used to be considered THE richest
    region on the entire PLANET, and was modernized in its time.  the french
    there even freed the slaves and they let them live among them as
    equals...then years later, the former slaves decided they would just
    kill every french just to take what they have, just because they
    could.   now look at haiti today....a desolate land that has been picked
    clean by descendants of murderers and rapists.  perhaps you should look
    up exactly what they did to those people, you might be surprised at how
    grotesque it was. 

    there has been several efforts in the last century by people to go there
    and help them out, build them infrastructure, educate them, modernize
    the place, etc....and everytime all that effort eventually gets
    destroyed by the people there.  and we're not talking about small
    efforts....we're talking about substantial ones. 

    here's another example:  africa.   it used to be under english
    administration (no, not english rule) during this century.  they did
    things like make sure the economy was running smoothly, making sure laws
    were followed, etc.  then africans got it in their head that they want
    the english to pack up and leave because they thought they could do
    things better.   so they told the english to get out, the english
    complied.....and just 1 decade later....bam, rampant poverty and
    famine.  then what did they do?  they called up the english begging for
    help. 

    I could keep going on and on listing countries and reasons....from india
    to the middle east.  hell, who do you blame for mexico's poverty and
    low quality of life?  it sure as hell wasn't the white man, nor the
    USA. 

    exploiting resources....yeah right.  resources they're 1.
    not using any or all of, and 2. they're willingly selling to us because
    they have nothing else to offer.  those resources are their only
    bargaining chip if they want to do trade and commerce in modern
    civilization.  the US doesn't suck the resources of the
    world.....because there's plenty of resources left over.   you act like
    the US uses soo many resources that they're going to be gone in a few
    years.  or like the US is using soo many resources that there is none
    left over for anyone else, which isn't the case at all. 

    and as for places like china, the foxconn incident was all an
    exaggeration.  without foxconn, these people would be even poorer.  
    they already make wages matching that of chinese middle class...hell
    they make more than some chinese lawyers!  what you saw was the
    exaggerated outrage on television....what you didn't see was the
    documentary of the common people praising foxconn for giving them
    opportunity.  sure things may be different in china.....but of course it
    would, in an overpopulated countries with more people than jobs. 
    obviously the logistics change when you go from different cultures to
    nearly 2 billion people in population.

    ironically, without hiring people to do things by hand that would
    otherwise be done by machine, jobs are saved. companies like foxconn for
    instance, could automate everything and save money.  but if china
    automated everything they could just to save money.....they would have
    MASSIVE unemployment.  so you see, it's not as simple as you think it
    is.  

    you also have to disregard exchange rates, you can only go by the local
    buying power of their money.  sure US money can be exchanged in many
    countries to essentially live like a king compared to that money being
    spent in the US.  but did you know americans technically pay MORE for
    things like food?  and I don't mean that they eat more....I mean they
    pay more for individual items than other countries would. 

    for example, US money stretches decently in guatemala, but the buying
    power of absolute minimum wage in guatemala is higher than that of US
    minimum wage.  it's essentially like they're making 20% more....and
    that's without bonuses, which is a common practice.  how often do people
    on min. wage in the US get a bonus? 

    hell the US spends billions upon billions a year just to feed and help
    foreigners.....while it has millions of its own homeless and starving. 

    what you're really doing, is blindly hating people you perceive as being
    better than you, getting more than you....out of misguided jealousy. 
    hundreds of years ago people came to the shores of america and made a
    life for themselves, from scratch.  you can't hate on people for making
    something of themselves, especially when they've primarily done it on
    their own backs.  even despite slavery and the limited exploitation of
    some places, the US was primarily built on the backs of hard working
    free men and women of all races from all continents.  nowhere in the
    world will you find as much cultural diversity as in the US.  although
    no ones perfect, it's not what you're making it out to be. 

    so think about what I've said and open your eyes to reality, to a realistic perspective of the world. 

  • Mokomele Thataone

    "we have repaid these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage." Dessalines - Black Warrior of Haiti.

    Whatever is wrong with fighting for your liberty? The english and other europeans raped entire continents, enslaved the inhabitants and decimated populations and cultures. civilisation cannot be a very good measure of being a progressive establishment. it reeks of a very diabolical world view where some are entitled more than their share. western countries go about their millenia old ways of wanton destruction of others in the name of profit, cloaked in rhetoric of democracy and progress.

  • Jennifer Wallner Goetz

    No one is suggesting that all the world's problems are because of America.  No one is suggesting that every other country does things better.  Certainly no one is suggesting food be taken from the mouth of your child to feed someone else's child.  The article makes a fair point that we consume more than our fair share of resources.  Consider our lifestyle in America.  I see resources being wasted all the time.  Filming TV shows and movies is one way resources are wasted.  Sure we like to watch TV and most of us would hate to give it up but it's completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things.  People are starving to death all over the world and we're wasting enough food to feed a 3rd world village for a week just to film a food competition show or a food fight scene.  Or how about scenes that use large amounts of water?  They aren't just filmed one time.  They're filmed until some guy decides it's "perfect."  You can see how much waste there would be over time and this is just one way that resources are wasted.  It's unfair of us to demand that we get to keep the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed when there are people out there who live a miserable existance.  We can't help everyone but we can certainly admit that we aren't without blame.  To pretend we're beyond reproach only makes us look like bigger assholes so quit embarrassing those of us Americans who don't think we can do no wrong. 

  • Rui Andrade

    Really, the US "provides" for 3rd World Countries? Is that the reason why people in this countries make so little and are able to live with less than one dollar a day? is that the reason why there are so many "Africa Relief" campaigns in the US?

    In the US technology thrives because some kid in Vietnam or Bangladesh works in factories and to buy the product he just produced, he has to sell a kidney. You really think that big foreign companies base their operations in this countries to help local people? It's all about profit. And in these countries, profit for big companies is much bigger. They can even polute almost at will, because local environment policies are non-existant.

    And yes, what the author was implying was really that.. Isn't great how a country with much more population is able to consume less resources? Isn't great how a family with with 10 members is able to consume less resources than a family with 4 or even less members?

    Speaking of large families in 3rd countries... are you aware that they don't have the same level of education as western countries? are you aware that they don't know what family planning is, that the majority of the people in this countries don't have access to birth control methods for example.

    I was trying no to use this word, but reading your final paragraph i must say it. You're an idiot. Western countries make something of themselves because they explore to bone the resources and the people of 3rd world countries. Is really easy to point the finger at smaller countries for not doing their part in the world improvement process, when all their resources are in the hands of foreign companies.
     

  • MaskedHysteria

    I read your comment, and I am so sad for your total lack of the ability to critical think. So let me point out some rebuffs to your comment. Firstly, the "disparaged" people you speak of in third world countries actually lived thriving lives before the white man cam to their lands, conquered them, raped the land, people and resources and to top it off enslaved them. The reason these places are still like this now, is the colonial business' which were set up there hundreds of years ago, are now huge multi-national corporations, who - regardless of what you believe, do not contribute AT ALL to bettering the land or giving back to the people. For instance see Shell polluting the Niger delta, or the platinum mines in South Africa, where the company who "owns" the mines pay the miners a pittance, even though they make billions. 

    Secondly, perhaps your chimp like brain can't understand that the reason people in Africa have so many children are the following (you take for granted as you of course live in the "West", in first world luxury and have no idea what it's like there - so really you should shut the **** up when it comes to commenting about it) - lack of education, no family planning councelling, no birth control, people have big families so that they can help each other in times of illness and famine, they also have more children so that the kids can look after them when they get old - unfortunately in rural Africa there are no first world retirement homes, you just die alone hungry in the sun - get it? 

    The real travesty here is how people are moronic as you still exist in this day and age. You actually believe that your country is great? It sucks the resources from the world like a parasite. People in the west are far greedy pigs, all you need to do is walk around town to see the evidence of this. Please, don't make comments when your small pea brain can't even comprehend what it is like for people in other countries.

  • Lissettemcortes

    Why do people always attack what they find in articles, especially the article?! It's an interesting topic and the graphics really help drive the point home. There's no need to get offended!

  • Anupsherchan

    this is totally wrong. look at the demographics of the country properly and then make an atricle Partrick. How come Nepal is so high up there, when the fact remains that most of our lands remain uninhabited because of the extreme cold. While at the same time everybody knows that Bangaladesh is the most densely packed nation in the whole world or at least the most from the list of nations you've listed above. 
    So I suggest you make a proper study before you post such ridiculous graphic statements.

  • Caitlin Roberts

    And why pick on Americans on the headline? Why not pick on the United Arab Emirates that consume much more resources, according to those statistics.

    I hope you are not suggesting that we all should aspire to live like people in Bangladesh and India so that we don't consume world's resources, that would be a cheap shot since it is obvious that technology will help us regulate everything.

  • Pasha

    Probably because Americans are more likely to read this article than anyone else.

    Also, how do you know that technology will solve this problem?

  • Chris

    The author isn't "suggesting" anything. Data speaks for itself. The visualization of data tells a story. You're supposed to use your own brain to develop a point of view.