The global human population uses an estimated 10 to 55 percent of Earth's primary production, the total energy stored through photosynthesis by terrestrial organisms. People use this resource in the form of fuel and food for both humans and domestic animals. As the human population increases, so does its use of this resource.
Another analysis of human impact on ecosystems is known as an ecological footprint. This analysis accounts for people's use of food and natural resources, such as land and water, as well as people's production of wastes and pollution. Ecologists are concerned that the biosphere has a limited capacity to renew or repair itself in the face of these impacts. One group of ecologists and economists calculated that since the 1980s, human demand has exceeded the biosphere's renewal capacity.
Although making such analyses is difficult, it is clear that Earth's capacity to support humans has an upper limit. This problem is a question of sustainability. Sustainability means the ability to meet human needs in such a way that a human population can survive indefinitely. To live sustainably, humans must close the gaps between Earth's renewable resources and capacities, our own needs, and the needs of Earth's other living species.
One approach is to develop new technologies for uses such as energy production, transportation, agriculture, housing, and waste disposal. Another approach is to slow or reverse human population growth. A third approach is to reduce our consumption of resources. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that increasing energy efficiency could cut national energy use by up to 20 percent in a few decades. This kind of change would require government policies as well as private efforts that reduce the use and improve the efficiency of cars, appliances, buildings, factories, and the systems that produce and distribute energy.
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