Global consumption figures have quadrupled since the 1970s: global population figures have doubled in that time, but the average amount of materials consumed per person has doubled.
The annual consumption of material goods now stands at over 100 billion tonnes per year, according to a recent report by the Circle Economy think tank, using data from 2017, the latest year for which data is available.
Breakdown of materials consumed by humanity:
- 50% – sand, clay, gravel and cement, used for building
- 15% – coal, gas, oil
- 10% – metal ores
- Most of the remainder – plants and trees used for food and fuel.
Recycling in Decline…
According to more recent trends, the proportion of materials being recycled is actually falling slightly – down from 9.1% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2017.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is most relevant to the Global Development option
This 50-year increase in consumption is mainly due to rapid economic development in the most populous countries on earth, namely China and India. As these countries develop, so governments, companies and people spend more money on buildings, transport and consumer goods.
These figures remind us of the fact that western models of development rely on increasing consumption of a range of natural resources, and our level of consumption is increasing.
It’s difficult to see how this mode of development can continue for much longer – given that there is already intense pressure on the Earth’s natural resources – not only in form of deforestation and desertification, but also in the simple fact that some resources, such as certain metal ores, are scarce, which means they could be the source of conflict in future years, or at the very least price rises, all of which could make sustained economic growth and development challenging to say the least!