VITAL FACTS - Selected facts and story ideas from Vital Signs 2005


  • Explosive growth in emerging markets, particularly China, was a large factor behind the 5 percent increase in the gross world product in 2004, to $55 trillion. China’s economy alone grew by 9 percent. (p. 44)
  • China represented more than 20 percent of the increase in world trade volumes in 2004, and its share in world exports nearly doubled over the previous four years, to 5.8 percent. (p. 46)
  • Of poorer countries, China was the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in 2003, at $54 billion. (p. 48)
  • Bolstered by strong economic growth in China, unemployment in East Asia stood at a mere 3.3 percent in 2003, compared to 6.2 percent worldwide. (p. 102)
  • China increased its oil consumption by 11 percent in 2004, cementing its position as the world’s number two user (after the U.S.) at 6.6 million barrels per day. (p. 30)
  • China is rapidly increasing its dependency on automobiles, with sales of cars and light commercial vehicles expected to reach 5 million units in 2005 and 7.3 million by 2007. (p. 56)
  • China’s fleet of airplanes is due to skyrocket from 777 planes in 2003 to over 2,800 planes in 2023. (p. 60)
  • China now ranks second (after the U.S.) in global carbon emissions, with a 14-percent share. Emissions in China are up more than 47 percent since 1990, and it accounted for half the global increase in 2003. (p. 40)
  • Between 2001 and 2020, some 590 thousand people a year in China are projected to suffer premature deaths due to urban air pollution—nearly one third of the projected world total. (p. 95)
  • China is now the world leader in steel production—accounting for nearly half the 8.8 percent increase in global production in 2004. It is projected to account for 61 percent of total growth in steel consumption in 2005. (p. 52)
  • Consumption of meat in China is expected to reach 73 kilograms per person on average a year, a 55 percent increase from 1993. (p. 24)
  • China alone harvested 46 million tons of fish in 2002, more than one third of the global total. (p. 26)
  • In 2004, China produced 1.79 trillion cigarettes, 32 percent of the global total. Chinese consumers smoked 99 percent of domestic production, in contrast to the U.S., which exported 24 percent of its production. (p. 70)
  • Because of China’s mounting HIV/AIDS epidemic, the number of people living with HIV in East Asia jumped nearly 50 percent between 2002 and 2004, to 1.1 million. (p. 68)


  • Farmers reaped a record grain harvest of 2,049 billion tons in 2004, a 9 percent increase over 2003. (p. 22)
  • The world’s fishers harvested a record 133 million tons of fish and shellfish from streams, oceans, and other water bodies in 2002—nearly seven times the global harvest in 1950. (p. 26)
  • Global passenger car production grew 4.5 percent in 2004, to an estimated 44.1 million units. Production of SUVs and other “light trucks” also reached a new record, 18 million, up some 6 percent over 2003. (p. 56)
  • Between 2003 and 2004, total installed nuclear generating capacity increased by more than 2 percent, from 358,000 megawatts to nearly 366,000 megawatts—the highest ever reached, and roughly 8 percent greater than a decade ago. (p. 32)


  • U.S. aid spending in Iraq totalled $18.44 billion in 2004, while all other U.S. aid spending added up to $20.7 billion. More than a quarter of this $20.7 billion went to just four counties—Israel, Egypt, Columbia, and Jordan—none of which are among the poorest in the world. (p. 109)
  • Every hour, the world spends more than $100 million on soldiers, weapons, and ammunition. (p. 76)
  • Programs to provide clean water and sewage systems would cost roughly $37 billion annually; to eradicate illiteracy, $5 billion; and to provide immunization for every child in the developing world, $3 billion. (p. 76)


  • High-income countries, home to only 16 percent of the world’s people, account for $662 billion, or 75 percent, of global military expenditures. (p. 76)
  • Military budgets of high-income countries are roughly 10 times larger than their combined development assistance. (p. 76)
  • Traditional military deployments abroad dwarf peacekeeping efforts. Some 530,000 soldiers (70 percent of them from the U.S.) in military operations overshadow the 125,000 peacekeepers worldwide. (p. 78)


  • World oil consumption surged by 3.4 percent in 2004, the fastest rate of increase in 16 years. (p. 30)
  • Production is falling in 33 of the 48 largest oil-producing countries, including 6 of 11 OPEC members. (p. 30)
  • In the continental U.S., oil production peaked at 8 million barrels per day in 1970 and fell to just 2.9 million barrels a day in 2004. (p. 30)


  • Global wind power capacity rose another 20 percent in 2004, to approximately 47,760 megawatts—enough to provide power to more than 22 million average homes in Europe. Due to inconsistent government policies, the U.S. added less than 5 percent (389 megawatts) of the estimated 8,210 megawatts capacity installed, bringing it to third place in wind energy production behind Germany and Spain. (p. 34)
  • World production of solar PV cells soared in 2004 to an estimated 1,200 megawatts, up 58 percent over 2003 levels and a doubling of production in just two years. While the U.S. share of production has declined steadily—from 44 percent in 1996 to 11 percent in 2004—Japan now accounts for more than 50 percent of the world market and Europe 27 percent. (p. 36)
  • The global market for solar thermal collectors for water and space heating grew by 17 percent in 2004. The energy equivalent of total global installations—about 110 million square meters—far exceeds that of global wind and solar power combined. China accounts for more than half the world's solar heating capacity. (p. 36)
  • Global production of fuel ethanol increased 13.6 percent in 2004, with Brazil and the U.S. dominating the market. World production of biodiesel is growing even faster, at 18 percent between 2002 and 2003. (p. 38)


  • Carbon emissions from U.S. motor gasoline use in 2002—at 1,139 million tons—surpassed those of the entire Japanese economy. (p. 56)
  • The average carbon dioxide concentration has increased more than 19 percent since measurements began in Hawaii in 1959—and has gone up 35 percent since the dawn of the industrial age. (p. 40)
  • By one estimate, the world’s glaciers lose at least 90 cubic kilometers of ice annually—as much water as all U.S. homes, factories, and farms use every four months. Scientists suspect that the enhanced melting is related to the unprecedented release of greenhouse gases by humans during the past century. (p. 88)
  • Desertification puts some 135 million people worldwide at risk of being driven from their lands. As climate change translates into more intense storms, flooding, heat waves, and droughts, more and more communities will likely be affected. (p. 66)


  • The greatest increase in unemployment over the past decade has occurred in countries in transition, such as Russia and Kazakhstan, which are still struggling to recover from the early 1990s. (p. 102)
  • Russia and much of Eastern Europe are suffering from greying populations. With fertility at barely more than one child per woman, Russia is now shrinking by 0.7 percent annually—roughly a million people a year. (p. 64)
  • Without adequate prevention programs, as many as 650,000 Russians could be dying from HIV/AIDS annually by 2010—more people than have died of AIDS in the U.S. since 1981. (p. 68)


  • Nearly one in four mammal species is in serious decline, mainly due to human activities. (p. 86)
  • An estimated half of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900, and destruction continues apace. (p. 90)
  • Global forest cover stands at approximately half the original extent of 8,000 years ago. (p. 92)
  • A 2000 World Bank study projected that on average 1.8 million people would die prematurely each year between 2001 and 2020 because of air pollution. (p. 94)
  • Global ice melt has led to hunger and weight loss among polar bears, and has altered the habitats as well as feeding and breeding patterns of penguins and seals. (p. 89)
  • The U.N. Environment Programme projects 50 million environmental refugees worldwide by 2010. (p. 50)


  • Consumers are demanding more grass-fed meat, milk, and eggs for health reasons—grass-fed products are higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol, and in conjugated linoleic acid. (p. 24)
  • Socially responsible investing in the United States nearly doubled between 1996 and 1997, and almost doubled again two years later. In 2003, SRI totalled $2.16 trillion in the U.S., of $2.63 trillion worldwide. (p. 98)
  • Certification schemes for sustainable wood products are increasing in number worldwide. The Forest Stewardship Council reports the area that meets internationally recognized criteria and principles of forest stewardship has grown more than tenfold since 1995, to some 47 million hectares in 60 countries. (p. 93)
  • In the U.S., Toyota and Honda have sold more than 120,000 hybrid electric vehicles since 1999. U.S. sales are expected to reach some 200,000 units in 2005 alone. (p. 56)