28 March 2012 – In its publication Vital Signs 2012 the Worldwatch Institute has captured data relating to the growth of the global economy during 2011, during which time the world population surpassed seven billion, and the use of energy and other natural resources generally rose.
Population growth combined with rising resource use, heavily tilted toward the world’s wealthy on a per capita basis but growing rapidly among the expanding global middle class, is reflected in rising worldwide resource consumption. Oil use reached an all-time high of 87.4 million barrels a day in 2011. However, while oil remains the largest commercial source of energy, its share in the global energy supply has slid for the last 11 consecutive years.
"The story that resource consumption is rising is hardly new," Worldwatch president Robert Engelman says. "In fact, it’s an ongoing challenge to keep that critically important story fresh and interesting. But these rising trends will not last forever. They can’t. Their continued growth in our lifetimes reminds us how urgent it is to develop new ways of assuring decent lives and livelihoods for all – ones that do not result in increasingly negative impacts on the people and world around us."
The use of biofuels, for example, can play a role in the transition to more sustainable lifestyles. The United States is the global leader in corn-based ethanol, yielding 49 billion litres annually, or 57% of the world output. Yet demand for this renewable energy source is a double-edged sword. Under the right circumstances, biofuels can be a less carbon-intensive alternative to fossil fuels. But using corn to make biofuels comes at the expense of its availability to be consumed as food, and rising demand for ethanol has pushed up the price of staple grains. In April 2011, the cereal price index hit a record high of 265, reflecting a 5% price jump worldwide.
Global production of biofuels reached an all-time high of 105 billion litres in 2010, up 17% from 2009, mostly as a result of high oil prices, global economic rebound, and new biofuel-related laws and mandates around the world.
In the case of nuclear power, increasing costs of production, a slowed demand for electricity, and fresh memories of disaster in Japan, saw generation of nuclear power fall in 2011.
In the case of wind power, global wind power capacity increased in 2010 to a total of 197,000 megawatts, representing a 24% increase from 2009. China is in the lead, overtaking the United States in 2010 with 45,000 megawatts of total installed wind power capacity.
In the case of natural gas, driven by surging natural gas consumption in Asia and the United States, global use of this fossil fuel increased 7.4% from 2009 to hit a record 111.9 trillion cubic feet in 2010.