Not All About Consumption

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Science  15 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6125, pp. 1286-1287
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234205

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The average barrel of oil on the market today has a larger ecological footprint than did the average barrel in 1950, and the average barrel in 2050 will have a larger ecological footprint than that of today. This tendency is most obvious in the increasing energy inputs required for production (1); production of all fossil fuels has an ecological impact, and increases in energy inputs thus translate into increased environmental impact. But exploiting less-accessible resources also requires more inputs, like diluents, water, and land, and produces more waste. Furthermore, once resources near population centers are depleted, more geographically remote reserves are accessed, increasing the ecological costs of transport. The implication is simple: Even if consumption is held constant, ecological impact can increase—not only for energy but also for other resources.