People and other living beings depend on natural resources for food, shelter, and protection, as well as for generating energy and all the products we manufacture. With current consumption patterns, people are using these resources at an unsustainable rate. Many resources are at risk of becoming depleted.
The U.S. has about 5 percent of the world's population, but accounts for about 40 percent of the world's resources consumption (U.N. Human Development Report). If everyone lived like the average North American, the combined "ecological footprint" — the land and resources needed to support humanity — would be at least five Earths. Developed nations have by far the biggest global impact, but developing nations also experience strain on local environments and their limited resources.
Fossil fuels, groundwater, forests, minerals, cropland soils, marine fisheries, and other natural resources are being depleted much more quickly than they can be replenished. Resources are also under pressure for other reasons, such as climate change leading to the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that are the source of major Asian rivers. As resources dwindle, the likelihood of resource wars increases (Shah, "Human Population").
We are living well beyond the Earth's carrying capacity, a measure of the number of people and the kinds of activities that the environment can sustain indefinitely. Overconsumption — taking more than than the Earth can provide — is threatening sustainability.
Schooling for sustainability includes everything from learning from the school's efforts to conserve resources to studying the global patterns that tax the planet's capacity.
References cited in this article may be found in "References" in the Resources page of our website.