Patterns in resource Consumption

Ecological Footprint


Ecological Footprint: The theoretical measurement of the amount of land and water a population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its waste under prevailing technology.

  • Takes into account the land needed for crop & animal farming, the forests, oceans, land used for infra-structure & also the land/forests required for absorbing waste (CO2 & landfill etc).
  • Vast disparities globally with many industrialised countries having vast footprints & some of the poorest countries having very small footprints.  High levels of consumption produce large footprints.
  • With a fixed amount of land/ocean in the world, if countries require larger footprints than their country area it is unsustainable.
  • New technologies and increased recycling may be able to reduce ecological footprints in the future.


  • Carrying capacity: the maximum number of people an environment can support without damaging it.
  • Optimum population: population level at which the highest standard of living can be achieved with the resources & technology present.
  • Over-population: too many people in an area to maintain the same standard of living with the resources & technology present.
  • Under-population: not enough people in a given area to use all the available resources effectively.

Malthusian Arguments

Malthus: idea that an optimum population level exists.  Populations can grow at an exponential rate but food supplies cannot.  Therefore exceeding optimum population level would lead to decreases in living standards.  He suggested that ‘checks’ would then exist that would reduce population growth.

* Positive checks (famine, war, disease due to scarcity of food).

* Negative checks (later marriage, less sex, both reducing fertility rate)

* Improvements in farming technologies (green revolution) have vastly increased food supplies & challenged Malthus’


* Argue that Malthus theory is essentially right & that we are already seeing food price increases due to shortages of supply.  Also many of the advances of the green revolution in India are leaving degraded soils & water shortages & so can’t continue endlessly.

* Club of Rome: a think-tank of influential people that published a book called ‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972) which promoted the idea that population growth is still likely to eventually outstrip food supplies.


* Argue that humans will find solutions through technology, efficiency and controlling levels of consumption.

* Boserup – argues that humans will improve food supplies & technologies to meet the demands of increasing populations, but that it takes the need for improvements to push farming improvements.  Green revolution.

The Green Revolution

Maize production
Maize production

Started in the 1960s, it increased crop yields significantly through several methods:

  • Development of seed varieties (cereals/rice/maize) that produced much higher yields and were more resistant to drought & disease.
  • Increased use of pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation to improve yields of crops.
  • Increased mechanisation of agriculture.


  • higher costs: new seeds needed each year and more capital intensive which placed heavy financial burdens on poorer farmers.  Many took out loans in the expectation of higher income, but the widespread increase in food supplies led to reductions in the money that farmers recieved for the crops.
  • mechanisation leads to rural unemployment which has had a significant impact on rural economies and increased migration towards urban areas.


Changing patterns of Energy Consumption

Oil Production

  • Oil production has been steadily increasing over the last 50 years.
  • Main production regions are the Middle East, North America & Europe.
  • European oil reserves are running out & there’s increasing reliance on the Middle East.
  • More difficult to reach reserves are being exploited at sea & on land (tar-sands).

Oil Consumption

Oil barrels
Oil barrels

  • Largest consumers of oil are North America & Europe with Asia close behind.
  • Rapid industrialisation & higher consumerism in China is increasing oil demand.
  • Largest consumers of oil are not the ones that have the largest supplies of it.  This, supply security issues & increasing prices are pushing MEDCs to develop alternatives.

Geopolitical Implications

  • Increasing reliance on the Middle East for energy has political implications as countries aim to keep good relations & secure future supplies.
  • Instability in the Middle East causes market volatility in oil prices which then directly affects many countries economies. Possible intervention by other countries.

Environmental Implications

  • Increasing reliance on Middle East by North America & Europe means increases in oil transportation & the risk of oil spills.
  • Deepwater oil drilling is riskier (deepwater horizon spill).
  • Environmental damage of tar sand exploitation.

Changing Importance of Alternative Sources of Energy

* Recent concerns about nuclear safety (especially since Fukushima leak, 2011) has seen many countries delay further expansion of this energy source.wind

* Significant investment in wind power, particularly offshore in the UK.  Concerns about reliability though & noise pollution.

* Solar power increasingly used as the technology becomes more affordable.  Financial incentive for domestic production in the UK through feed in tariffs to the main grid.  Significant investment by Germany in solar generation.

* China is rapidly exploiting its huge coal reserves to meet massive increases in energy demand.  Still very polluting but new technologies such as Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) may clean this industry up.

* Biofuels have experienced significant growth which looks set to continue although concerns remain about the impact they are having on rainforest ecosystems (palm oil plantations) & on global food prices (grains used for fuel not food).

Resource Conservation (Reduce – Reuse – Recycle)

Efficiency: significant improvements in efficiency in many aspects:

  • Cars travel much further per gallon & introduction of hybrids (Toyota Prius).
  • Televisions & computer monitors becoming LED rather than cathode ray.
  • Energy efficient light bulbs & LED traffic lights (traditional lightbulbs banned from sale in the EU now).


  • Separate recycling bins for households introduced by councils in the UK & collected weekly.recycling cropped
  • Industries being made to recycle waste: electronic components,  tyres, glass.
  • Products increasingly designed with recycling in mind.

Waste Reduction

  • Reductions in food packaging in UK supermarkets.
  • Reductions in food miles (fuel reductions).

Past Paper Questions



3)  Examine why most countries want to reduce their dependence on oil. [15 marks]example_answer_button