environment lifestyle science social justice sustainability

Ecological Overshoot – The Living Planet Report 2008

The Living Planet Report for 2008 came out this week. The regular report from the WWF charts our ecological debt, providing a watermark for sustainability. It’s where this graph comes from, that we’ve posted a couple of times before. The green line marks the earth’s biocapacity – it’s total natural services – resources, and ability to absorb waste. The red line is the demand we’re making.

As you can see, we parted company with the earth’s capacity a while back. We’re now using renewable resources such as timber or fish 30%  faster than the earth can renew the supply. We should all be familiar with what happens when you overshoot in this way, as WWF’s Director General James Leape writes in the introduction:

“The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means, but the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch.”

This ecological debt is not equally spread. The report shows that over three quarters of the world’s population “live in nations that are ecological debtors – their national consumption has outstripped their country’s biocapacity. Thus, most of us are propping up our current lifestyles, and our economic growth, by drawing (and increasingly overdrawing) upon the ecological capital of other parts of the world.”

I find this map pretty stark. To put it simply, the red and pink countries are in overdraft on their natural resources. They rely entirely on the green countries, who are in credit on their resources, to provide them with what they need. Aside from Canada and Russia and a couple of other countries vast enough to offer a generous surplus of resources, the northern parts of the world are living off the south.

We don’t like to face it, but we are deep into the earth’s overdraft. Our luxury lifestyle cannot be extended to everyone – there is simply not enough to go around. If we wish to continue to live the way we do, all those countries in green must remain poor.

Is that acceptable to you? It isn’t to me, and that’s why we write this blog.


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