Thursday, February 7, 2013

We've Got Some Big Feet!

The global human population has topped 7 billion people.  There are more than 315 million of us living in the United States alone.  Those are big numbers.  They’re hard to wrap your mind around.  What are the implications of that many people running around the planet?

Here are a few facts to chew on:

  • In the United States, each of us will throw away approximately 29,700 pounds (almost 15 tons) of plastic food packaging during our lifetimes.  We’ll each drink our way through an average of 43,371 soda cans.  Together we throw away 60 million plastic bottles and 100 million aluminum and steel cans every day.  That’s enough cans to build a new metal roof over New York City every single day!
  • The average American will send 64 tons of waste to landfills over the course of a lifetime.  As a nation, we generate 246 million tons of landfill waste every year.
  • The average baby in the United States uses 3,796 diapers.  If you consider the ingredients that go into manufacturing those diapers, then each child’s diapers alone are responsible for the consumption of 1,898 pints of crude oil, 715 pounds of plastic, and 4.5 trees.  Each year, we throw away a combined 18 billion diapers in the United States alone.  That’s enough diapers each year to stretch around the world 90 times.  And the average diaper will take more than 500 years to degrade.
  • The average American will use 285 tons of coal in a lifetime.  The United States accounts for approximately 5% of the world’s population, but we use more than 25% of the world’s energy.
  • By our first birthday, those of us born in America will already be responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than a person in Tanzania will generate in a lifetime.  We are responsible for 5 times more carbon emissions than the average Frenchman and 20 times more than the average Indian.
  • We burn through more than 10,500,000 barrels of oil a day just to run all the cars in the United States.
  • Over the span of an average lifetime, we’ll lose more than 93 million acres of open space to development in the United States.  That is a chunk of land equivalent to the size of Montana.  We lose approximately 2 acres of open space every minute of every day.
  • If everyone in the world lived like Americans, we’d need more than 4 planets to meet our natural resource needs and absorb our waste and pollution.
  • Earth has been around for more than 3.8 billion years.  Humans are no more than newborns in comparison.  If we imagine that the planet is one day old, then humans have existed on it for just a few seconds.

Wow!  We’ve changed the planet in a big way in a relatively small amount of time.  But we can learn to reduce our footprint.  For some ideas on how to start, check out these tips from the Center for Sustainable Economy.

The facts listed above are demonstrated in National Geographic’s video Human Footprint.  It’s worth watching.

As always, go outside and get mud on your feet… just step lightly.

J. S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.