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Natural Resource Consumption
January 20, 2006 7:26 AM   Subscribe

What percentage of the world's natural resources does the united states use?

My boss threw this question at me yesterday, and after much googling, I haven't come up with a straightforward answer. I can find articles discussing the percentage of specific resources (coal, oil, ect.) the U.S. uses, articles comparing the actual amounts used to other countries, and mentions that the U.S. uses "most" or "a great deal of" natural resources, but nothing like "the united states uses x% of the world's natural resources." This isn't for anything other than my boss’ curiosity, but it seems like a simple enough question, and it's killing me that I can't find the answer! Does anyone know where I can find this information?

Thanks in advance!
posted by sarahmelah to Science & Nature (10 answers total)
 
I think the problem is that first you would have to define what counts as a natural resource. Oil might be obvious. What about wood? Wind? Diamonds? Sand?
posted by duck at 7:29 AM on January 20, 2006


This is a little "out of subject" but did you know that :

Switching from a 4X4 car to a less polluting car (hybrid...) generates a 1 ton of CO² reduction per year per user.

Switching from traditional eating practices (with meat) to veganism saves 1,5 tons of C0² per year...
In order to produce 1 kg of meat (beef), 7 kg of food are used.
posted by vincentm at 7:50 AM on January 20, 2006


I think the difficulty with answering your question is that we don't know how many natural resources exist, just very wide ranging estimates. You might also keep in mind that even if we use 25% of world oil or whatever resource, we also have the largest GDP by almost double (might have lost some to China, but we're still quite a bit ahead). We use a lot, but we also produce a lot. If efficiency of natural resource consumption could be measured that would be much more interesting. Sorry for not answering your question.
posted by geoff. at 8:10 AM on January 20, 2006


The way your question is stated I'd say your key problem would be that you are asking about the world's entire resource. To answer that you' d have to know what the entire world supply of something was and even then the annual depreciation might seem relatively trivial. To give an example, no-one knows how much oil is left in the world, so you can't say what fraction the US is using in any particular timeframe. If you could then the annual consumption by the US would still appear as a smallish fraction. Comparative figures for consumption are more useful in that they allow some form of benchmarking against other users but even this is limited. For example, industries tend to cluster geographically, thus a country with an industry which dominates a particular sector might appear to consume lots more than other countries. So comparison is only really useful in particular cases, for example for very basic things like energy/fuel consumption.
To relate this to the question you ask about all resources then there's no real way to do it. There are different amounts of different resources available and no way to place a value on one resource in comparison with another. I.e., if the US was to use 10% of resource X and 5% of resource Y you'd have to able to attach a weighting to each resource to give an overall value and this is effectively impossible. (If X and Y are a bit dry for you try X=diamonds and Y=peat bogs. Or apples and orangies if you prefer!)
posted by biffa at 8:10 AM on January 20, 2006


vincentm : "Switching from traditional eating practices (with meat) to veganism saves 1,5 tons of C0² per year...
"In order to produce 1 kg of meat (beef), 7 kg of food are used."


Just to complement your off-topic comment, that is basic biology/physics - every time you extract energy from a source, some of that energy is wasted as heat and some is used to sustain the extraction process. As our sole external source of energy is the Sun, the closer you get to using the Sun as source the less energy you waste. As photosynthetic plants are the only organisms capable of using the Sun directly, eating only vegetables will result in less waste.

Now, back to the question, what is the question? Supposing natural resources are only already existing things you extract to use (minerals, some kinds of plants, water), we exclude all products of agriculture and also animal products. Should fishing be included? What about the water used to raise something eventually exported to the US?

I disagree a little with biffa: how much oil is left in the world is irrelevant, the relevant fact is how much oil is produced (extracted) yearly and how much the US uses. But agree with biffa that it would be hard to reach a general unique figure. Suppose there were just two products, say oil and iron. Suppose the US uses 25% of all oil produced in the world and 50% of all iron. How do one calculate the US aggregate use of iron-oil?
posted by nkyad at 8:28 AM on January 20, 2006


There are also fun questions in a global economy. If Boeing uses a bunch of resources to make a 747 for Lufthansa, should that resource use be charged the "moral" account of the US (for making it) or Germany (for actually consuming the end product)? This gets even messier with service industries -- surely Google uses a lot of electricity; onto whose moral account does that resource usage go? The US, where Google mostly is, or should we charge it proportionately to each country's usage of the end product?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:35 AM on January 20, 2006


"Natural resources" is often code for "energy." As it turns out, there is some good data on world and US engergy consumption.

In terms of overall consumption in 2003 the US consumed 98.84 QBTU out of total world consumption of 421.51 or around 23%.

Per capita we consumed 339.9 MMBTU, where as the earth consumed 66.7 MMBTU per person.

you may find this eia web site helpful.
posted by shothotbot at 9:45 AM on January 20, 2006


Although I find the current state of the meat industry a little frightening, and go out of my way to buy from quality sources in Montreal, I can't agree with a comparison between eating meat and driving an SUV. Humans evolved to be meat eaters and rely on the essential nutrients found in there. Witness to this is the fact that most vegetarians have to augment their diets in ways that seem elaborate and contrived. However, humans didn't evolve into creatures with the inherent need to sit ten feet off the highway, consume more gas than is justifiable, and roll over at the slightest nudge.
posted by jon_kill at 9:52 AM on January 20, 2006


I've read (need to find citation) that it would take 4 more Earths for the rest of the world to have a standard of living equivalent to the USA.
posted by A189Nut at 10:47 AM on January 20, 2006


jon_kill : "Humans evolved to be meat eaters and rely on the essential nutrients found in there. Witness to this is the fact that most vegetarians have to augment their diets in ways that seem elaborate and contrived."

It's been known for a while that the Pure Vegetarian, like the Poodle Toy and the Celebrity Pop Singer, are products of the modern urban society and can't survived un-aided in the wild.

A189Nut : "I've read (need to find citation) that it would take 4 more Earths for the rest of the world to have a standard of living equivalent to the USA."

shothotbot figures are saying this. The US uses roughly one-fourth of all energetic resources (round up to 100 QBTU), with roughly 5% of the world population (300 mil out of 6 bil). To bring the rest of the world to this level of energy consumption you would need 95/5* 100 = 1900 QBTU yearly, roughly four times the present production.
posted by nkyad at 11:10 AM on January 20, 2006


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