Global trends in consumption

Key Definitions

  1. Resource Consumption- The level of resources needed or used by a society
  2. Sustainable Development- Development that “meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” (UN)
  3. Extreme poverty– Is defined as when a person’s income is too low for basic human needs to be met, potentially resulting in hunger and homelessness.
  4. Absolute poverty– When a person makes less than $1.90 daily.
  5. Relative poverty– When a person’s income is too low to maintain the average standard of living in a given society.
  6. New Global Middle Class (NGMC) – Globally the middle class is defined as people with discretionary income. They can spend this on consumer goods and, at the upper end private healthcare, holidays and even cars.
    a. On average they earn an income of $3,650 and $36,500 per annum.
    b. Or people earning $10,000 per annum.
  7. Fragile Middle Class– Globally, there are 2 billion people who have escaped poverty but have yet to join the so called NGMC. This category of income earners have come out of poverty but can easily slip back into it if care is not taken. This is often referred to as the Lower Middle Class.

Progress towards Poverty reduction, including the growth of the New Global Middle Class (NGMC)

In recent times, the world has witnessed a significant decrease in the number of people living in extreme poverty (i.e less than $1.90 a day). About one billion people have graduated from extreme poverty in the past two decades, especially in Asia and Latin America. The most significant decrease took place in China, where about 500 million people have made it out of extreme poverty. Learn more about how China become an ‘economic miracle’

Source: Our World Data

According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 43% in 1981 to 11% in 2013 and in 2016, this number fell below 800 million. This implies that more than 90% of the world’s poor have graduated out of the extreme poverty trap.

Notwithstanding the significant progress in reducing the number of people living below the poverty line, there are variations in its distribution. The World Bank (2019) further states that:

  • Two regions, East Asia and the Pacific (47 million extreme poor) and Europe and Central Asia (7 million) have reduced extreme poverty to below 3 percent, achieving the 2030 target.
  • More than half of the extreme poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the number of poor in the region increased by 9 million, with 413 million people living on less than US$1.90 a day in 2015, more than all the other regions combined. If the trend continues, by 2030, nearly 9 out of 10 extreme poor will be in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The majority of the global poor live in rural areas, are poorly educated, employed in the agricultural sector, and under 18 years of age.

Reasons for global poverty reduction

  1. The introduction of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 led to a fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty in countries like China, India and Brazil. Unfortunately, much of Sub-Saharan Africa still remains poor despite the introduction of the MDGs.
  2. Increase in government spending in some BRICs economies, as well as LICs, in healthcare, education, access to better sanitation etc, leading to a reduction in unemployment and a general increase in the quality of life and standards of living
  3. Globalization, i.e increasing access to emerging markets by TNCs for cheap labor, resources and large markets for manufactured goods.
  4. Rising incomes and changing lifestyles, leading to an increase in the demand for high-value manufactured goods.
  5. Technological advancement: People in most parts of the world now have access to technology for the production of goods and services. This leads to job creation in developing economies with access to technology such as internet services (which may help in starting businesses. e.g Mpeso (mobile money transfer) in Kenya.

Despite a fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty in most LICs, it is essential to note that this reduction varies from country to country. It is also worth noting that even though there is a significant decrease in the number of people living in extreme poverty globally, there is evidence to suggest that in some countries the rich are getting richer whilst the poor are getting poorer. In other words, there is an enormous inequality gap in the distribution of wealth in some countries.

According to Oxfam, the richest 1% of the world’s population have seen their wealth increase from 44% in 2009 to 99% in 2016. Also, the richest eight billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s total population (Oakes, 2018). This shows that there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor than ever before.

The New Global Middle Class

There is a significant increase in the number of people belonging to an emerging group of income earners known as the New Global Middle Class (NGMC). These are defined as people with incomes ranging between $3,650 (or $10 a day) and $36,500 a year. These are people with discretionary income who can spend on consumer goods and, at the upper end private healthcare, holidays and even cars.

The fragile middle class (or the lower middle class), constituting about 2 billion of the world’s population are those who have escaped poverty but have yet to join the NGMC. They earn between $2 and $10 daily and are more likely to slip back into extreme poverty if attempts are not made to maintain or improve their economic situation. Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, find themselves in this class.

The links below give further details on the NGMC:

Trends in Resource Consumption

The trends in poverty reduction and the growth of the new global middle class have led to the reassessment of global resources and whether these resources will be sufficient to cater for the needs of the growing population. This leads to a study of the concept of the ecological footprint and its implications for future generations, in terms of food, water and energy resources.

A resource can be defined as features of the environment which are needed and used by people. It usually refers to the natural resources in the air, water or land and may include raw materials, climate, vegetation and soil. The diagram below shows the classification of resources.

Classification of Resources


Reasons for the growing significance of non-renewable and renewable energy supplies
1. Increase in global demand for natural resources, especially by HICs.

2. Increase in natural resource extraction by LICs, for export to developed countries to generate income for development

3. Global increase in population growth leading to increasing demand for goods and services. This also results in an increase in the demand for natural resources to feed the manufacturing sector of advanced countries. This, however, leads to environmental degradation of various forms, ranging from soil erosion to water pollution, air pollution, depletion of the ozone, etc.

Consequently, the world’s natural resources are depleting at a rapid rate and it is estimated that if resource consumption is not brought under control (given the rate of natural resource renewal), the world would run out of resources to meet the needs of future generations. This leads to the concept of the Ecological Footprint.

Ecological footprint

It is defined as 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. It examines the theoretical relationship between population size and resource consumption. Mathias Wackernagel and William Rees at the British Colombia University in Canada first developed this concept.

  • Biocapacity – the capacity of an area to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the area’s ecological footprint exceeds its bio-capacity, an ecological deficit occurs.
  • Ecological Debtor: A country whose ecological footprint is higher than its bio-capacity.
  • Ecological Creditor: A country whose ecological footprint is lower than its bio-capacity.
  • Global Hectare: The measurement of bio-capacity and ecological footprint.

The infographic below shows the estimated consumption of world non-renewable resources


Source: BBC Future – Global resources stock check

Calculating the ecological footprint
The ecological footprint measures or calculates (in acres or hectares) the amount of the earth’s productive space needed to keep a population at its current level of resource consumption. Units of bio-productive areas are used to assess the nature and scale of the environmental impact of a country, region, community etc. It takes into account the following :

  • bio-productive land – which refers to grazing land, gardens, forests, farmland for food and materials etc
  • bio-productive sea, referring mostly to fishing grounds·
  • built environment – needed for road and settlement construction etc
  • energy resources such as land needed to produce renewable energy
  • biodiversity land for non-human species
  • non-productive land e.g deserts
  • Other factors such as species extinction, toxic pollution of air, water and other non-renewable energy resources are not taken into account here.

Ecological Footprint – Global Footprint Network

Challenges with accurately calculating the ecological footprints

It is clear from the above that calculating the ecological footprint of the world may be an impossible task, partly due to the fact that the land and water a population requires can be affected by climatic, technological, human and economic factors.

The ecological footprints concept can be analyzed from the individual, national and global perspectives, by measuring the levels of energy consumption.

Ecological footprint at the national scale

The map below shows the global ecological footprint by country (national Level).

This map compares each country’s total consumption footprint with the bio-capacity available within its own borders.

World Biocapacity and Footprint
World Biocapacity and Footprint

Many countries rely, in net terms, on the bio-capacity of other nations to meet domestic demands for goods and services. For example: Japan imports Ecuadorian wood to make paper; Europe imports meat fed on Brazilian soy; the United States imports Peruvian cotton; and China obtains lumber from Tanzania.

Currently less than 20 percent of the world’s population is living in countries that can keep up with their own bio-capacity.
Data source: Global Footprint Network’s 2010 Edition.

Ecological footprint at a global scale

It is estimated that the current average bio-productive area required per person worldwide is 2.69 global hectares (gha). On the other hand, the global bio-capacity (i.e the ability of the resource to regenerate itself) is 1.78 gha per person as of 2015. This leaves a deficit of 0.91 global hectares per person.

According to the Global Footprint Network, it takes one year and four months to regenerate the resources that are used annually. The average ecological footprint for a person in the United States is 9.57 gha (the highest in the world), whilst Bangladesh has an ecological footprint of 0.5 global hectares. This implies that by United States consumption standards, the planet’s bio-capacity could only support 1.2 billion people. This shows a failing natural ecosystem.

On the other hand, by Bangladeshi consumption standards, the earth could support 22 billion people. If the global population trend continues, the ecological footprint per person will reduce to 1.5 gha by 2050. Global ecological footprints went up by 70% of the earth’s planet capacity in 1961 to 120% in 1999. The YouTube video below will help you to understand the concept of ecological footprint in a broader context:

Graph showing global ecological footprints per person (individual level).


How can a country increase its ecological footprint?

  1. By increasing the consumption of food and meat. This means more land would be needed for the cultivation of crops and raising livestock, which also means more water resources are needed to sustain their growth and development over time.
  2. Increasing the consumption of non-renewable resources such as coal, oil and natural gas. Since these resources are non-renewable, it is possible that they could be over-exploited and future generations are unlikely to benefit from them. This also implies an increase in the carbon footprint, resulting in an increase in the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
  3. High per capita consumption of food and energy, leading high demand for food and energy resources by the rich.
  4. Increasing the importation of resources from other countries.
  5. Using less renewable resources such as solar, wind, hydropower, tidal energy etc.
  6. Lack of investment in technology that could either help in the conservation of resources such as the use of fibre glass or artificial foods as well as recycling plants for recyclable materials

How can a country reduce its ecological footprint?

  • The ways a country can reduce its ecological footprints are the opposite of the ways a country can increase its ecological footprints – basically, increasing the consumption of renewable resources and decreasing the consumption of non-renewable resources. Any of the ideas above could be “recycled” to answer this question.

It is estimated that about half of the average ecological footprint is caused by the use of hydro-carbon fuels. This leads to the development of a new indicator for measuring ecological footprint known as the “carbon footprint”.

  • Carbon footprint is defined as ‘the total quantity of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, organization, event, product or nation, expressed in units of tons of carbon emitted’.

Carbon footprints have led to the introduction of carbon offset schemes as a way of assessing how individuals and organizations identify the carbon footprint of their actions and pay to a company that absorbs an equivalent quantity of carbon. Carbon offset projects include re-afforestation, afforestation, using energy-efficient technology etc.

Global patterns and trends in the availability and consumption of water

  1. Water security– This is defined as when all people at all times, have sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable-quality water for sustaining livelihoods, well-being and development.
  2. Physical water scarcity: Water scarcity is when physical access to water is limited such that water consumption exceeds 60% of the usable water supply. This is when the demand for water exceeds the supply of water
  3. Economic water scarcity: This is when a population lacks the supply of water even though it is available as it is not accessible due to economic reasons. This may be due to a lack of the necessary monetary needs to utilize an adequate source of water.
  4. Water stress: This is when the per capita water supply is less than 1700 cubic meters or when the demand for water exceeds the supply at a given period of time. Or when the demand for water exceeds the supply for a given period leading to water shortage.
  5. Safe drinking water: This is the same potable drinking water. This is water that is free of impurities, pollutants and bacteria and is thus safe to drink
  6. Water footprint: This is the volume of freshwater an individual uses directly and in the production f the goods and services that the person consumes. There are two kinds of water footprints. Internal water footprint: This is the volume of water used from domestic water resources. External water footprint: This is the volume of water used in other countries to produce goods and services which are imported and consumed by the population of the country.
  7. ‘Grey’ water: This is water that has already been used for another purpose that can be used again.

Water is a very critical resource to humans. It is needed for domestic (8%), industrial (23%) as well as agricultural use (69%) (Blueplanet).  However, its availability and consumption vary from one country or region to another, depending on factors such as level of economic development, environmental as well as human factors. The demand for water is increasing more than ever before and it is estimated that by 2030 about 50% of the world’s water resources will be needed for industrial, domestic and agricultural purposes.

Fresh water is needed by humans for various activities. However, with the world’s population currently at 7.7 billion (2019), humans could be using 90% of all freshwater resources by 2050 (Blueplanet). This implies that the world’s population is likely to suffer from water stress in future. Many areas suffer severe water shortages due to human and environmental factors. The map below shows the extent of water scarcity in different parts of the world.


Water scarcity, from the map above, is mostly experienced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where about 300 million are affected annually.

The environmental and human factors affecting water scarcity

  • Overpopulation in urban areas: Areas with high populations tend to demand a higher water supply; hence the government must invest in providing water infrastructure to avoid water shortage.
  • Increase in domestic demand for water: If the demand for water increases as a result of improvement in the standards of living or the level of affluence, it is likely that water shortage will occur due to the demand placed on the water supply.
  • The level of pollution: If the level of pollution is high then there will be a shortage of clean, drinkable water
  • Political factors: If the government places a priority on the provision of safe drinking water to its citizens then there will be no water shortage
  • International conflicts over access to international water resources: If a water body flows through multiple countries then it is more likely that the countries furthest downstream will experience water shortages due to the establishment of dams upstream. An example is the conflict over access to the Nile River, which is owned by about five different countries.
  • Climate change: Global warming and its associated higher temperatures mean that water bodies in arid areas will evaporate more easily which reduces the amount of water available for consumption. Global warming could reduce the amount of rainfall, hence the amount of water available in wells, aquifers, rivers etc.

Problems caused by water shortage

  • Disease outbreaks due to poor sanitation, leading to the pollution of water bodies
  • Low industrial production and economic stagnation
  • Over reliance on foreign water supply
  • Reduction in agricultural productivity
  • Water refugees
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • International conflicts

Solutions to water shortage

  • There must be a concerted effort by the government to provide potable drinking water in all communities
  • International and bilateral agreements between countries that share common water resources to make enough water available to each country.
  • NGOs and private companies should provide assistance to drinking water and sanitation sectors of countries
  • There must be equitable distribution of water resources in a country

Factors affecting access to safe drinking water

Physical factors

  • The rate of evapotranspiration
  • Seasonal distribution of precipitation
  • The physical ability of the area to store water. If the area is made up of impermeable rocks, or highlands then the physical ability of the area to store water will be low. However, if the area is made of permeable rocks or flatland with clay soils or loamy soil, then it will have a high ability to absorb water.
  • The amount of precipitation. This is the amount of rainfall, hail or snow. If the amount of precipitation is high, this will increase the amount of water available for consumption in the area.
  • The ease of access to groundwater supplies – If access to groundwater supplies is easy, then there will be more water available for consumption.

Human factors

  • The wealth of the nation
  • The ability of the nation to construct and maintain water infrastructure
  • The distribution of the population between rural and urban areas
  • People in urban areas are more likely to have safe drinking water than those in rural areas. This is due to the concentration of investment
  • Socioeconomic differences in urban areas: People living in affluent neighbourhoods are more likely to have access to clean drinking water than their neighbours in poorer areas
  • The degree of contamination of urban water supplies by industry and lack of sanitation
  • The degree of contamination of rural water supplies by fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides
  • Civil war and international conflict

Embedded water

Recent trends have shown that some countries experiencing water shortage import water from other countries- done through importing manufactured products such as drinks, food, and textiles, or by investing in agriculture in foreign countries. For example, China and Saudi Arabia have embarked on a massive land grab in Ethiopia and Kenya for the cultivation of maize and other cereals for their citizens. This increases the embedded water in these countries.

Embedded water (virtual water or water footprint) is defined as a measure of the amount of water needed in the production and transport to the market of food and commodities. It is estimated that a can of Coca-Cola contains 0.35litres of water, however, it requires about 200 litres to grow and process the sugar it contains.

Table 1. Water Footprint of Eight Common Food Items

Food Item Serving Size Water Footprint
Steak (beef) 6 ounces 674 gallons
Hamburger 1 (includes bread, meat, lettuce, tomato) 660 gallons
Ham (pork) 3 ounces 135 gallons
Eggs 1 egg 52 gallons
Soda 17 ounces 46 gallons
Coffee 1 cup 34 gallons
Wine 1 glass 34 gallons
Salad 1 (includes tomato, lettuce, cucumbers) 21 gallons

All data from The Water Footprint Network.

As Table 1 indicates, meat (in this case, pork and beef) requires the highest amount of water to produce. In fact, as many people who have taken GRACE’s Water Footprint Calculator (WFC) have learned, diet overwhelmingly makes up the largest part of a person’s water footprint, even when compared to taking long showers or flushing the toilet every time it’s used (these types of water uses matter but have less of an impact).

Developed countries tend to have high per capita water consumption. According to Water Footprint Network, “In the USA, the average water footprint per year per capita is as much as the water needed to fill an Olympic swimming pool (2,842 cubic metres), that is an average of 7,786 litres of water per person per day. In China, the average water footprint is 1,071 cubic metres per year per capita, or 2,934 litres of water per person per day” (water More water is needed by advanced countries for industrial use whilst in LICs, it is mostly used for agriculture.

The map below shows the water footprint of various countries.

Several factors account for the increasing water demand:

  • Climate change, leading to some areas becoming drier than others whilst others are getting over-flooded.
  • Increasing population growth, meaning more demand for water for industrial, agricultural and domestic use
  • rapid urbanization which means more water is needed for consumption and waste management
  • increasing standard of living in emerging economies – India, China and Brazil.  The growth in the middle class in these countries requires more water to meet their increasing demand for water resources
  •  growth in tourism, sport and recreation – that means more water for golf courses and football fields, etc

Global Patterns and trends in the availability and  production of food/land

Global food/land availability patterns

Global population growth now stands at about 81 million p.a and is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. This has implications for food production, as this will lead to increasing demand for more food, especially with the increasing number of people joining the new global middle class. This has not only led to an increase in the demand for cereals, but also meat and other dairy products — especially in China and India—and is projected to remain high in the European Union, North America, Brazil, and Russia ( This is termed nutritional transitiona change in diet from staple carbohydrates towards meat and fish proteins, typically due to a rise in incomes from $2 to $10(Oakes, 2018).

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warns that world food production will need to rise by approximately 70% by 2050; food production in the developing world will need to double in that period. FAO attributes this need to:

  • Population growth: 70%
  • Increase in per capita income: 30% of which 22% will be from an increase in average kcal/person/day and 8% from a shift in diets

Global food consumption patterns

Patterns of calorie intake: Daily food consumption. NB: Calorie intake is the unit for measuring hunger.

global calorie intake

The map shows that the areas with the highest calorie intake (over 3500 calories per day) include Western Europe and the USA. The lowest calorie intake (less than 2000 per person per day) occurs mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the far East, including Mongolia and Afghanistan. Australia, North America, Europe and China have daily calories of about 2500 – 3000 per person per day.

The graph below also shows areas of high meat and milk consumption. The EU, Canada, USA and China are the areas of high meat consumption. For example, in China,  annual meat consumption per capita increased from 5 to 50kg in the 1990s (Oakes, 2018)

Changing diets in middle-income countries

The graph below shows the global middle-class spending by 2030. It shows that China’s middle-class consumer spending is likely to be the highest, followed by the EU and North America. Sub-Saharan Africa will remain low followed by the Middle East and South America. This expenditure pattern has implications for future food consumption.


Source: The Emerging Middle Class in Developing Countries

China’s growing middle class

What are the implications of the growing middle class on food production and consumption?

1. More meat will be demanded by the growing middle class. This means more land for rearing animals and also more water to feed the livestock as well as water grazing grounds. This may also lead to an increase in the amount of methane gas emitted into the atmosphere

2. Increasing demand for cereals and other food crops. This implies more land would be needed to cultivate crops, leading to deforestation land reclamation from the sea and other wetland areas etc.

3. Land grabs: countries whose ecological footprint is low for some resources might resort to external sources to meet their demand for that resource. E.g China has grabbed lands in Ethiopia to cultivate maize and other food crops for export back to China. This is meant to reduce the amount of land and water it requires to produce maize in China

Group work: Discuss other implications with other members of the class

Global patterns and trends in the availability and consumption of energy

Energy consumption plays a pivotal role in determining the extent to which natural resources are used. There are two main types of energy resources: renewable and non-renewable energy also known as hydrocarbons.

Renewable energy is energy from sources such as sunlight, water, wind, vegetation and geothermal, among others. These are considered sustainable sources of energy because they do not pollute the environment, however, they have several challenges which would be considered later in the chapter.

Hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) include coal, oil and natural gas. Shale gas is also considered a part of hydrocarbon fuels.

Energy mix refers to the number of hydrocarbons, nuclear energy and renewable energy sources that are needed and used by a country.

It is estimated that Asia will account for 75% of the total primary (energy) consumption growth between 2015 and 2040 (Ener-Blue), followed by Africa (15%). In the meantime, the energy intensity of non-OECD countries will converge to the OECD level. (enerdata). This growth is largely due to the increasing number of people joining the New Global Middle Class. This calls for the need for sustainable management of energy sources.

Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016

Discussion: What factors determine the type of energy mix a country might opt for?

  • Physical factor –
  • Technological factors –
  • Environmental factors –
  • Economic factors –
  • Social factors –
  • Political factors –

Why the United States stores 700 million barrels of oil underground.

The relative and changing importance of hydrocarbons, nuclear power, renewable, new sources of modern energy

  1. Oil

Impact of oil extraction and usage
Oil also presents environmental challenges and a recent example is BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Concerns are therefore raised about the nature of oil consumption in the world and whether countries should continue to depend on oil.

Environmental impact
• Disruption of sensitive environments (tundra, rainforest, ocean habitat)
• Transportation spills
• Toxic wastes
• Climate change
• Air pollution
• Economic upheaval from disruption of supplies

The consequence of the global production and consumption of oil resources has led to the demand for alternative sources of energy. This is in an attempt to minimize the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with the use of oil, and reduce the dependence of major consuming economies on oil-producing countries seeking political supremacy through their oil (e.g Russia, Iran and Venezuela). Examples of Alternative sources of energy include:

1. Solar
In 2008 South Korea opened the world’s largest solar power plant. It covers the equivalent of 93 football stadiums and provides electricity for 100,000 homes.
The sun is the primary source of solar energy.
• It is safe
• It is pollution–free
• It is efficient and of limitless supply.
• It is expensive to construct a solar station
• It is affected by clouds, seasons and nighttime

2. Nuclear Power
Nuclear power plants provided 10.9 per cent of the world’s electricity production in 2012. In 2014, 13 countries relied on nuclear energy to supply at least one-quarter of their total electricity. As of July 2015, 30 countries worldwide are operating 438 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 67 new nuclear plants are under construction in 15 countries (NEI).

Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant

Nuclear power plants generate electricity by converting water at boiling point into steam which is then used to turn turbines to produce electricity. The material used to generate energy for converting water into steam is uranium fuel which is contained in solid clay pellets. This process is known as fission. Watch the YouTube video below. Visit the Nuclear Energy Institute to know more about nuclear power.
• Cheap, abundant and reliable source of energy
• It can last for several years, unlike coal and oil which lasts for about 30 and 50 years respectively.
• Western countries would not have to rely on the Middle East for oil
• Requires a small amount of uranium to produce enough energy. E.g. 50 tons of uranium per year is equivalent to the amount of energy 500tonnes of coal can produce per hour. Also, a single uranium fuel pellet the size of a fingertip contains as much energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil.

• Uranium is a radioactive material so nuclear power industries face the problem of waste disposal
• Cost of decommissioning old plants and reactors is very high
• Environmental disaster could be very high. E.g Chornobyl, in 1986 and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in Japan
Reference – Geography – An Integrated Approach by David Waugh. Read the whole chapter on Energy

4. Wind Power:
Wind energy is another viable source of energy that can replace the use of other sources of energy such as coal, nuclear, oil and gas. For more on how wind can be used to generate energy visit the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

wind farm

• No pollution
• No finite resources involved
• Reduction in environmental damage elsewhere
• Suitable for small-scale production

• Visual impact
• Noise
• Winds may be unreliable
• Large-scale development hampered by the high initial cost
• Difficulty in finding a suitable location
See how wind energy works

5. Hydroelectric power:
Hydroelectric power is by far one of the most efficient sources of alternative energy. For more on how water is used to generate electricity visit National Geographic
Factors affecting location:
• Relief – needs a valley (gorge) that can be dammed
• River regime – a reliable supply of water
• Geology – a stable, impermeable rock
• Climate – a reliable supply of rainwater
• Market demand – to be profitable
• Transport facilities – to transport energy

• HEP plants are costly to build
• Only a few places have sufficient headwater
• Markets are critical since plants need to run at full capacity
• May lead to the destruction of human settlements
• Flora and fauna are destroyed as a result of lake development
• It may lead to water-borne disease, especially for people living close to the lake.

Case study- Three Gorges Project
• The dam was completed in 2009 on the Yangtze in China
• Over 1 million people were relocated from the dam areas
• It is 2km long and 100meters high
• The Yangtze provides 66% of China’s rice and contains 400million people
• The Yangtze drains 1.8million square km and discharges 700 cubic meters of water annually.

Benefits of the dam:
• Generates 18,000 megawatts of electricity, 8 times more than the Aswan Dam HEP can provide.
• It will enable China to reduce its dependence on coal
• It will supply energy to Shanghai with a population of about 13 million.
• It will protect 10 million people from flooding (over 300 m people died from flooding in the 20th century)
• It will allow shipping above the Three Gorges – dam raising the water level by 90meters
• It has generated thousands of jobs

Protest against the building of the dam:
• That the project was unnecessarily expensive – cost about $70 billion.
• Several towns and cities, including Wanxian (140,000 people) and Fuling (80,000 people) would be submerged by the dam.
• Flooding has occurred along most rivers that feed the Yangtze river.
• The region is located in a seismically active area and landslides are frequent.
• The land provided for the resettlement of people affected by the dam is 800m above sea level, very steep with thin soils and colder. NB: Read New Wider World for details on this case study:
• 293-295
BBC article on the Three Gorges Dam
Watch the YouTube video below on the construction of the largest dam in the world – The Three Gorges Dam, China

Discuss the following sources of energy:

6. Geothermal – advantages and disadvantages

7. Tidal energy. – advantages and disadvantages

World Nuclear Association
Nuclear Energy Institute

Oakes, Simon “Geography – Global Change- Study and Revision Guide, Hodder Education. 2018