When the blue planet goes in the red
Today is Ecological Debt Day, the time of year when humans begin exploiting resources faster than the planet can regenerate them. A new report released today says the global recession hasn't significantly slowed consumption.
Fri, Sep 25 2009 at 5:18 AM
WE'RE IN THE RED: Ecologically speaking, that is. (Photo: PaulPaladin/iStockphoto)
Humanity’s tendency to more and more overconsumption hasn’t subsided despite the trend of going green and the global economic crisis. That’s according the Global Footprint Network, a research organization that measures worldwide sustainability.
On Sept. 25, the Earth goes code red as it observes World Ecological Debt Day, the day when people begin exploiting resources faster than the planet can regenerate them. In other words, over the last nine months humanity exhausted all the ecological services, including air and water purification, vegetation generation and renewal, and greenhouse gas absorption, which nature renews in 12 months.
Ecological Debt Day occurred only one day earlier in 2008, highlighting that the the economic slowdown hasn't really prevented it's progression. The previous year it fell on Oct. 6.
“It’s a simple case of income versus expenditures,” says Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. “For years, our demand on nature has exceeded, by an increasingly greater margin, the budget of what nature can produce. The urgent threats we are seeing now -- most notably climate change, but also biodiversity loss, shrinking forests, declining fisheries, soil erosion and freshwater stress -- are all clear signs: Nature is running out of credit to extend.”
According to the research organization’s calculations, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fossil fuels now account for 52 percent of humanity’s footprint, grazing land accounts for 10 percent, forest is 9 percent, and developed land is 2 percent.
While there’s a clear message that a change in lifestyle is necessary, especially limiting CO2, action remains uncertain. Just a few days ago, world leaders gathered in New York for the U.N. climate change summit where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon petitioned them to stop stalling and reach a new international agreement on climate change. Many of these delegates will reconvene in December in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol -- the international treaty on limiting carbon emissions, which the U.S., as the largest per capita carbon emitter, did not sign.
If business continues as usual, the projections show that the human population will require the equivalent of two planets by the early 2030s to supply the necessary resources, which would push Ecological Debt Day to July 1.
“Debt-fueled over-consumption not only brought the financial system to the edge of collapse, it is pushing many of our natural life support systems toward a precipice,” said Andrew Simms, New Economics Foundation (NEF) policy director and co-author of the Consumption Explosion, a report published today in support of World Ecological Debt Day. NEF is an independent think tank and member organization of the Global Footprint Network. “Politicians tell us to get back to business as usual, but if we bankrupt critical ecosystems, no amount of government spending will bring them back.”
Many of the solutions suggested in the NEF report require a sea change in policy and aspirations. These include creating more stable economies that produce less unnecessary goods, redefining well-being so that people consume only products that create well-being without environmental costs, embracing renewable energy and, in more concrete terms, committing to reductions in year-over-year greenhouse gas emissions in line with stabilizing them at atmospheric concentrations at 350ppm CO2.