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Patterns in Resource Consumption

The Ecological Footprint

Definition: 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.

There are vast disparities in countries ecological footprints (measured in global hectares). Fossil fuel consumption is a major factor for most countries since many developed economies rely heavily on oil and gas for transportation, heating and electricity generation.

Developed countries tend to have high per capita energy consumption due to the levels of car ownership and devices in homes (TVs, dishwashers, ovens, air conditioning etc).


  1. Define "Ecological Footprint".
  2. Explain why the part of the definition about "under prevailing technology" is significant.
  3. Open this page to view the map & Data
  4. Describe the pattern shown on the map (it shows countries ecological footprints)
  5. Explain why on the map China, the USA and India have the largest ecological footprints.
  6. In the chart below the map UAE tops the per capita ecological footprint rankings, suggest reasons why.
  7. Watch video 4.1; how can cities reduce the ecological footprint?
Video 4.1 The ecological footprint
Ecological Footprint
Figure 1 The Ecological Footprint

Population levels and resources

Underpopulation: when there are not enough people to make full use of the resources and technology of the place they live in.

Canada can be considered underpopulated because it could increase its population but still have a high standard of living. Canada exports food, oil and water.

Overpopulation: an area that experiences decreasing standards of living due to population growth. Resources are being spread more thinly between the people (food, jobs, technology, services, energy).

Rwanda is a good example of a country that became over populated and conflict led to a very violent civil war which suddenly decreased the population.

Optimum population: the level of population at which the resources are most effectively exploited to give a high standard of living.

Advances in technoogy often allow us to use resources more efficiently or extract previously unrecovarable resources - so the optimum population level is dynamic and is likely to change over time.

optimum population diagram
Figure 4.2 Optimum Population

Malthusian Arguments

Thomas Malthus

Malthus argued that population growth would outstrip the rate at which humans could increase food production. This would eventually lead to situations in which food resources became scarce and ultimately lead to an event that would reduce the population level - a war (over resources), disease or a famine. He called these population reductions 'checks'.

The main limitations of his theory are based on his assumption that the main way to increase food supplies was through farming more land. This has proved to be unfounded as technology and machinery have vastly increased the yields of food that we can produce from a given area of land. Developmnents such as the green revolution have vastly increased global food production.


Read through the following article and make notes about the arguments for and against Malthus theory


Club of Rome - these argue that we cant keep increasing the food supply and that the green revolution is unlikely to be repeated.

In fact in many places soil degradation and increasing freshwater scarcity are going to make increasing the food supply much more difficult.


Boserup - these argue that we will find ways to increase food production to meet the needs of increasing populations. That scarcity will drive inovation and new technologies to allow continued population growth.

Genetic modification of crops, laboratry grown meat products etc.

CASE STUDY: Easter Island - overpopulation?

Attenbrough Easter Island & population decline video.

Easter Island text resources:

Easter Island page 1

Easter Isalnd page 2

Homework: Explain how & why Easter Island can be used to exemplify the theory of Malthus.

Oil Dependency

The last century witnessed the world become increasingly dependent on oil. Food production, industry, transport, plastics all depend on oil in one way or another.


Watch video 4.

Consider the role of oil in our modern way of life and the impact that it is having on the environment.

Video 4. Oil Landscapes

Alberta Tar Sands


Watch video 4.

  1. Describe what the tar sands oil reserves are?
  2. Significant concern exists about the high environmental impact of extracting oil from the sands. Describe the main concerns.
  3. Why is Canada allowing a fragile ecosystem to be severely damaged to extract oil?
Video 4. Alberta Tar Sands

Shale oil and gas

Shale gas and oil offer the potential of vast new fossil fuel reserves that can be extracted. The exploitation of these reserves in the USA has enabled it to become a net energy exporter aswell as reducing the price of electricity.

World reserves of shale gas (Guardian interactive)

watch video extracts from 'gaslands'

Shale gas & the US (Guardian 2012)

  1. Describe how the shale oil and gas are extracted.
  2. Explain why there are many groups and individuals that strongly oppose the process.
Video Shale oil and gas

Environmental impacts of extracting oil

Niger Delta

The Niger delta has been exploited for its significant oil reserves at significant cost to the environment and local populations


  • Watch Video ....
Video Environmental damage in the Niger delta

Geopolitical Impacts of Oil

1) UK & Argentine tensions are increasing over who has the rights to oil reserve in the Falkland Islands.

Read this article & make notes about the reason for the conflict

2) Spain & Argentine tensions over oil industry nationalisation.

Read this article and make notes about the cause of the tension

3) China & Vietnam tensions over Paracel islands & oil exploration

Read this article & make brief notes.

Video 1.8 Outsourcing in the Philippines

Levi Jeans

Levis have made significant progress in reducing the resources used in the production of their jeans. Manufacturing jeans has traditionally used large quantities onf water, not just in the fabric prouction but also the dying processes.

Use figures 4. and 4. aswell as the links below links to make case study notes.

You should include:

  1. Description of the measures that Levis are taking to reduce the water used in the production of their jeans
  2. To what extent have they achieved sustainability in terms of water use.

Guardian uk: Levis sustainable manufacturing processes

Guardian uk: Levis 100% recycled water

Levi Jeans sustainability
Figure 4. Levi Water Conservation Source
Levi Jeans water recycling
Figure 4. Source Levis Sustainable Jeans

Spain Water Conservation

You are required to evaluate a strategy to conserve a resource at a local or national scale:


  • Produce a case study that:
  • Outlines the problem faced by Spain in terms of water supplies
  • Identifies the strategies to increase the supply
  • Identifies ways in which to reduce the demand
  • Concusion - do you think they will suitably solve the water issue?


Acosol, Costa del Sol, Spain

The public water utility company Acosol has made a firm commitment to sustainable tourism and respect for the environment. Its key initiatives include providing recycled water for the irrigation of golf courses and garden areas, operating a desalinisation plant and linking up river basins and resoviours to balance water extraction.

  • To guarantee supply to the whole Costa del Sol, Acosol has carried out work to inter-connect catchment areas between Campo de Gibraltar, Río Verde, Málaga and Axarquia. Acosol is therefore able to transfer water from one catchment area to another, thus balancing resources. This is an important point in achieving proper management of water resources.
  • During 2014, Acosol supplied 5,676,028 cubic metres of recycled water to golf courses.
  • The Marbella desalination plant was commissioned in 2005 and is one of the largest in Spain. Spain has more than 700 desalination plants for both saltwater and seawater. The Marbella plant has eight production lines and a capacity for producing 56,000 m³ per day (2400 m³/hour), which means an annual supply of around 20 cubic hectometres.

Acosol also invests in raising awareness about water saving techniques:

  • Washing machines and dishwashers always full, as they use the same amount of water independently of the load of clothes or utensils, respectively. So, filling them with the maximum load can mean savings of up to 40 litres of water and optimise water consumption.
  • Closing taps properly after use, as just one dripping tap can use more than 90 litres of water a week.
  • Taking a daily five-minute shower, instead of a bath, can help save up to 400 litres of water a week.
  • Irrigating during the first and last hours of the day – albeit not in excess – can also achieve considerable water savings, as this reduces loss due to evaporation.
  • Not using the toilet as a wastepaper basket. If you place a wastepaper basket in the bathroom you will avoid flushing the toilet every time you use the toilet as a rubbish bin.
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