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The greatest challenge that humans have ever faced

Over-population and over-consumption are the two greatest challenges. How can these problems be overcome?
© International Culinary Studio

Refresh your memory by looking at the population graph discussed earlier during our discussion on the History of Sustainability. You will recall over the past 100 years, the world’s population has increased at an unprecedented pace. With the current rate of over-consumption and unprecedented demand for resources unless there is change, there will be insufficient resources to meet the future needs of the human race.

“Solving this crisis is the greatest challenge faced by humanity in the last 10,000 years” Source: Author, Julian Cribb, Ph.D., “The Coming Famine”

Problem 1: Population growth

Imagine this:

So why such a population increase?

The relationship between births and deaths, is called the fertility rate. If there is an equal amount of births to deaths the population will remain the same; if there are more births than deaths, the population will increase. Many factors have impacted the fertility rate however the key ones are:

  • Improved health care, advances in medicine; for example vaccines, people live longer.
  • Lower birth and infant mortality rate.

Other factors that have also impacted population growth are:

  • Increased food production due to modern farming methods.
  • Advances in food distribution.
  • Increasing incomes, so food becomes more affordable.

Problem 2: Over-consumption

What is over-consumption?

Over-consumption describes a situation where the amount of resources that are used exceeds the ecosystem’s sustainable capacity resulting in environmental degradation and loss of non-renewable resources.

What is the problem?

Most people think that population growth is the main reason for over-consumption. In reality, the world’s population has been declining over the last few years; for example, in 2020 the world population decreased by 1.05 percent.

One critical factor affecting over-consumption is lifestyle choice. Affluence and consumerism generate a great deal of waste. Here are some examples:

  • The world generates nearly two billion tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) each year, enough to fit into 822,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. MSW includes trash from companies, buildings, houses, yards, and small businesses.
  • Fossil fuel consumption has increased significantly over the past half-century and has roughly doubled since 1980.
  • In 2019 the average American used almost twice as much oil as someone in Japan and nearly 350 times as much as a person living in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The wealthiest one percent of the world’s population is responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.
  • 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of the world’s natural resources.
  • The wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population account for 60 percent of all private consumption.
  • As recently as 2000, China contributed just 7% of the annual growth in consumer spending worldwide. By 2020, China accounted for more than a quarter of consumption growth. 2040, it is predicted that China will contribute 44%, three-and-a-half times the expected contribution of the US, and 2.7 times more than the combined contribution of the whole of the rest of Asia.
  • If everyone lived like an American, we would need roughly four ‘earths’ to support the style of living.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a measure of the average achievement in key dimensions of human development. The three main measures are; a long and healthy life; being knowledgeable; and having a decent standard of living. Countries are ranked into four tiers of human development. If you study the following world maps, you will see that the countries that are ranked as “high human development” are the countries that have the highest consumption rates and cross the line of unsustainability.

2020 Human Development Index Map

2020 Human Development Index

Pic Food Consumption Map

2020 world food consumption in calories daily

Water Consumption Map

2018 Water Footprint per capita

Municipal Waste generation per capita

Municipal waste generation per capita

Why do we consume so much?

The Industrial Revolution ushered in the rise of global affluence where people earned higher wages had enjoyed disposable incomes for luxuries. Before this, people lived frugal lifestyles, they worked hard, received very little pay, and had just had enough to buy food and keep a roof over their heads.

Increased disposable incomes meant that people could afford better cars, homes and live more luxurious lifestyles. Peoples desire to show off their social status, led to an era of social mobility. People worked harder than ever to earn more so that they could have their social status recognized. This, coupled with easier access to cheap global online brands and the pressure of celebrities and influencers, led to run away consumption.

Today users are constantly being exposed to the luxurious lifestyles of celebrities and influences and buying is just one click away. Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they have purchased as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer. Source:Kleiderly

Further on in this course, we discuss ethical (conscious) consumerism and explain changes that consumers are demanding of us to reduce run-away consumerism and the effect on our planet.


In 2020 the world population was 7.8 billion and each person consumes on average 2800 Kcal per day. The current average population increase is about 81 million people per year. How much food is consumed annually, and how much food will need to be produced 20 years from now? What will the impact of this be on the planet, animals, people, the environment?

© International Culinary Studio
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Introduction to Sustainable Practices in Food Service

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