We passed Earth’s ecological limit on September 23

Posted by Laura Grant on October 2, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Since September 23 we Earthlings have been living beyond our ecological means. In fact, by the end of the year we will have used 40 percent more of our planet’s resources than nature can replenish, says the Global Footprint Network, a non-profit organisation committed to a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of one planet.

This year we have already overshot the Earth’s biological capacity and the result is that our supply of natural resources – trees and fish and such – will dwindle, while our waste, primarily carbon dioxide, accumulates. We are in ecological debt and we have been for about 20 years.

Every year the date on which the world begins to go into ecological deficit – or Earth Overshoot Day, as it is called – moves forward. The GFN calculated that the first Earth Overshoot day was on December 31 1986. By 1996 humanity was using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply and Earth Overshoot Day fell on November 21. By 2050 they estimate that it’ll fall in July.

Our ecological footprint has grown rapidly. As recently as 1961 humanity used just over half of the planet’s biocapacity, now we need 1.4 planet Earths to sustain us, says the GFN. If we carry on using the Earth’s resources the way we are we will need the equivalent of two planets by 2050.

Ecological footprint is a measure of the global hectares it takes to produce what a population (an individual, a city, a country, or the world) consumes and absorb its waste, says the GFN. As of 2003, the most recent year for which data are available, the average ecological footprint was 2.2 global hectares per person, this is 0.4 hectares more than the biologically productive area available on the planet (just under 1.8 hectares per person).

But certain lifestyles have a much greater ecological footprint than others. For example, the average person in the United States has a footprint of 9.6 global hectares; the average African’s footprint is 1.1 hectares. “If everyone in the world lived like an American, it would take more than five planets to support humanity,” says the GFN.

Even though the average African ecological footprint is the smallest in the world, the continent’s biocapacity is just 1.3 global hectares per person (the global averarge is 1.8), which is only slightly more than Africans use. The continent’s growing population is bringing is close to reaching its ecological limits. And there are already many countries living beyond their ecological means, according to a report produced by the GNF and the WWF entitled Africa. Ecological Footprint and Human Wellbeing. South Africa is one them. Others are Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

The report – which was presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Johannesburg in June – concluded that many opportunities exist in Africa to manage and use biocapacity more effectively. “There are huge opportunities to improve wellbeing in lasting ways while staying within our ecological constraints,” Mathis Wackernagel of the GNF said. “Among these are giving women access to health choices, education and economic opportunities; designing infrastructure that will make cities more resilient to resource scarcities; and leapfrogging directly to the most resource-efficient technologies instead of using older, more resource dependent ones.”

How does South Africa’s Ecological footprint compare with the rest of the world?

The GFN drew up a list of countries showing how many Earths we would need if everyone lived like one of their a residents.
1. United States 5.4 Earths
2. Canada 4.2 Earths
3. United Kingdom 3.1 Earths
4. Germany 2.5 Earths
5. Italy 2.2 Earths
6. South Africa 1.4 Earths
7. Argentina 1.2 Earths
8. Costa Rica 1.1 Earths
9. India 0.4 Earths

Our carbon emissions are the main cause of our ecological overspending, says the GFN, making up more than 50 percent of our ecological footprint. Our carbon footprint (the amount of land and sea it would take to absorb all the carbon we emit) has increased 700 percent since 1961, it adds.

But on a more positive note, the GFN says that because of the role of carbon emissions, we can rebalance our Earth budget if we conquer climate change without depleting other natural assets.

Via :: The Daily Green

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