bowl of fried rice

Don’t be surprised

Humans are so good at using resources we should not be surprised at any of the numbers. We are more making machines.

All the time we are told that extinction is happening, that habitat is being destroyed, that the environment is under threat from every turn. Because it’s so common and we feel it and hear it every day, this rhetoric makes us numb. 

It’s all so sad and painful and, well, too much.

The interesting thing is that we shouldn’t be surprised by all the bad news. Nor be confused or doubt the severity of the impact of humanity on the planet. 

Just think for a moment what it takes to maintain a single human life, your life for example. 

Maintaining a human life

Every day you need to take in some water, be it in the 3-litre allocation, several coffees, a soft drink or even a few beers. 

Liquid has to be taken in for the body to function. It is also essential that you excrete some of the fluids going in because the kidneys are using that water to take away some of the products of metabolism that your body no longer requires. 

Everybody has to eat because without the energy and nutrients from food the body can’t function. You need fuel to power the cells in your body so consumption of food is a requirement. Again not all of that food is absorbed. Some of it is excreted so there is a requirement for that function too. 

Then of course you need to find something to do all day to acquire those resources that maintain your body. In ancient times people would go out and forage for themselves. In modern times we use the marketplace occasionally growing a bit of our food on the side. 

About 2 billion or more people around the world grow all their food because their low income means they have little choice. Around 5 billion of us trade some or all of the time that was spent either gathering or growing food and water for money. This money we use to purchase those essentials. 

Why we live

In nearly all of us there is an innate desire to reproduce. So we look for a mate and form a family unit. It is so pervasive this desire to make more that all around the world humanity has created rituals around formal unions to support a family. 

Once the babies appear, more food, water and shelter are needed, somewhere safe where the children can grow and be nurtured. And even if you flout your genes and choose to go childless, a roof over your head makes life much more comfortable.

Every one of us on the planet does one variant or another of these things as part of our innate biology. 

More making

As large mammals, we have a significant resource requirement for maintenance and to make more. We take from the vegetation and the soils what is needed and each of us has an ecological footprint of one size or another.

Modern technology has extended this capability for resource gathering beyond people’s wildest dreams. The fact that we now have electricity, houses, vehicles and an extraordinary infrastructure to support a modern lifestyle, provides the essentials only with considerably more effect and a larger footprint 

If you’ve got this far in this post then you will have read 450 words.

At an average reading rate of 140 words a minute, it has taken you around about 3 minutes. In that time, roughly 450 people have been added to the global population

This happens every minute of every day — 130 people per minute are added to the global population at our current rate of growth, that is births minus deaths in each minute.

Each of those 130 people will grow up and require a similar kind of ecological footprint to the one described. They will need to eat and drink and have shelter and trade their time for money for a life that might extend to 70 or more years. 

Over one hundred people a minute are being added to a population of 8 billion souls.

When you try to understand these numbers it should be no surprise that all that humanity is appropriating the planet, taking up resources at an extraordinary rate. 

Photo by Julius Yls on Unsplash

Kecap manis

Suppose that you make a delicious fried rice dish with an egg on the top. 

Already enticing but made even better with some sweet soy sauce, kecap manis as the Indonesians like to call it, to complement the rice. 

The condiment comes in a small bottle and only a little is needed to finish off the dish. If there’s two of you then one small bottle sits in the fridge and lasts for months. Not every day do you have special fried rice and two people don’t need much sauce.

Suppose the kids come around for supper, bring their kids and a couple of mates. Now it is 10 people around the table and they all decide that they would like some ketchup manis. The bottle will be consumed in one sitting.

This is the reality of numbers. 

130 a minute

8,000 an hour 

192,000 a day 

5,840,000 a month 

70,080,000 a year

It’s not necessarily the size of the footprint of each person it’s the collective footprint of so many people 

What sustainably FED suggests…

The temptation is to try and limit the numbers. 

Crazy ideas of contraceptives in the water, one-child draconian policies, and the more egalitarian empowerment of women are some of the suggestions to slow down reproduction. Only it is impossible to break the cycle of more making, it’s locked in.

Don’t be naive and think that hunkering down in your own space will protect you or your country. No person or jurisdiction is an island on a planet that is populated by a species that uses resources at such a rate as humans do.

Rather than limiting reproduction or pretending to be an ostrich, it is better to wake up to reality.

We have to feed everyone now and keep it going forever, that is what sustainably really means. Keeping it going. 

It can be done. Humans have the smarts and the technologies. 

All we need is awareness.


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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