The idea of biocapacity is one of the key concepts behind this blog and one of the earliest things I researched in any detail. In a nutshell, biocapacity is the total of all renewable resources and services provided within a given area. Countries and regions have a biocapacity of their own, and so does the earth in total.
It is possible to overshoot capacity for a short time, in the same way that I can work a 70 hour week when I’ve got a deadline, but would crash if I had to do it full time. Global biocapacity was breached around 1987, and every year since more resources have been used than can be replaced and more wastes have been emitted than can be absorbed.
Putting economic and ecological realities together gives you the reason for the title of this blog. If it takes more than the planet’s total biocapacity to deliver a consumer lifestyle to just one in seven of us human beings, then ending poverty is already incompatible with sustainability, and the rich world needs to downsize to make room.
The Global Footprint Network hosted a competition recently to visualise the concept of biocapacity and national surpluses or deficits. Jacob Houtman’s winning entry is this rather nifty interactive map. Hover over a country, and you’ll see it’s capacity, and to what extent its population is in either environmental credit or deficit.
As you might expect, rich or populous countries tend to be into their overdrafts – the red ones below. That means they need a poorer or larger country somewhere with a surplus they can use – the green ones. Britain only gets away with such an affluent lifestyle on a small island because other countries aren’t using all their resources and services. That’s fine, if we’re paying for it. If we’re not, by emitting CO2 into the atmosphere for free for example, that’s an ecological debt that we’re not taking responsibility for.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to write a long post. Click on the image below to explore the map. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time.