Every day, we add more than 200,000 people to the planet. This is like adding a city the size of Augusta, Georgia, on Monday; Akron, Ohio, on Tuesday; Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday; Rochester, New York, on Thursday; Amarillo, Texas, on Friday; and on and on, day after day. The rate of population growth is now slowing, but our absolute numbers continue to increase.
This ongoing rise in human population amplifies nearly all of our impacts. Our consumption of resources has risen even faster than our population. The modern rise in affluence has been a positive development for humanity, and our conversion of the planet’s natural capital has made life better for most of us so far. However, like rising population, rising per capita consumption magnifies the demands we make on our environment. The world’s citizens have not benefited equally from society’s overall rise in affluence.
Today the 20 wealthiest nations boast more than 55 times the per capita income of the 20 poorest nations—three times the gap that existed just two generations ago. Within the United States, the richest 10% of citizens now claim half of the total income and more than 70% of the total wealth. The ecological footprint of the average citizen of a developed nation such as the United States is considerably larger than that of the average resident of a developing country.