The United States Isn’t all That Big, so What’s the big Whoop?

            While Ellis was rummaging through a file, he came across an article from the June 2010 edition of The Reporter, Population Connection’s monthly magazine. It contained a series of factoids about the American way of life – and its impacts – that we found fascinating. We found these data to be worthy illustrations of why there are Enough of Us, and why it really does make sense for us to think twice before conceiving little new Americans. We updated any information for which we could find more recent data. Here goes:

            The size of a new American home is approximately 2,400 square feet, depending on whose statistics you believe. In 1950, it was 983 square feet. In 1980 it was about 1,700. Since family size now is smaller than it was back then, it seems the larger the middle classes grow, the larger their houses. And that means more power usage for heating, cooling, lighting and the like, especially when you calculate that very few people had air conditioning back in the day.

Imagine, new houses are now two-and-a-half times the size they were 60 years ago. The only bright note is that the average new house last year was about 50 square feet smaller than they were a year or two previously.

Computers and other toxic e-waste - photo courtesy Greenpeace

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2008, we generated 3.16 million tons of ewaste in the U.S. Of this amount, only 430,000 tons or 13.6 percent was recycled. The rest was trashed – in landfills or incinerators. The total generated increased from 3.01 million tons of e‐waste generated in 2007, but the recovery rate stayed at 13.6 percent. Selected consumer electronics include products such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, video cameras, stereo systems, telephones, and computer equipment.

Globally, each year we generate 20-50 million tons of electronic waste.

It would take more than five Earths to be able to sustain world population if everyone consumed resources at the same rate as does the United States. At the consumption rate of France or the United Kingdom, it would take 3.1 Earths. In case you’re interested, for
Spain, Germany or Japan it would take 3.0, 2.5 or 2.4 Earths, respectively.

To put it another way, we – especially Americans – are generating a lot of toxic crap and we’re too damn lazy to even recycle it.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Transit Statistics, for 2006 there were almost 251 million registered passenger vehicles. Of these, 135 million were classified as automobiles, while 99 million were classified as “Other 2 axle, 4 tire vehicles,” presumably SUVs and pick-up trucks. Add to that almost seven million motorcycles. As of 2007, there were 1.2 vehicles per licensed driver in the United States, according to the Department of Energy.


The world’s richest half-billion people – that’s about seven percent of the global population – are responsible for half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. The poorest 50 percent are responsible for just seven percent of emissions. This is known as environmental injustice.


According to the Worldwatch Institute, global meat consumption I s expected to grow at an annual rate of two percent until 2015. The growth in meat consumption is likely to be most dramatic in developing countries where meat eating is a sign of prosperity.

China now consumes half the world’s pork. Meat production is one of the environment’s greatest polluters. Brazil follows the U.S. as the number two consumer of beef.


We wonder how many would-be parents think twice about these issues before procreating.





  1. Carolyn says:

    I am surprised that my native Brazil consumes so much beef. Here in Sao Paulo we are crowded, but most of the country is sparcely populated. I love the forests and I do see a lot of it falling to development.
    Brazil is getting industrial and we should learn from the mistakes of the U.S. and China. Our ecosystem can easily be damaged by heavy metals of e-waste.


  2. Catheryn says:

    We are already learning a lot from the rest of the world. Carol (my sister) didn’t point out that we have a huge beaurocracy already in place for studying these issues and keeping industrial waste out of the environment is a top priority. The forests are, of course, a sticky issue since so many feel that it is their birthright to exploit this resource. It is the attitudes of general population that are making progress so difficult. The government seems to be on board with protecting the earth for future generations.
    Elsewhere it may be different, I understand. The news from the U.S. seems to indicate the opposite. The people are trying hard to take care of mother earth, but the U.S. government appearantly is entirely supportive of industries which don’t care about anything beyond profit.

  3. The sources of the raw materials needed to build these short-lived toys are places like Congo and other countries where the environment and human rights take a back seat to greed (hm….does that sound familiar?).
    I recently heard the term “blood minerals” referring to these resources that are collected at the cost of human lives in East Africa. I guess as long as people “need” the lastest toy, and Congo is out-of-sight-out-of-mind, it will be business as usual.

Speak Your Mind