growth sustainability

One of the most important graphs in the world

Last week the 2014 edition of the Living Planet Report was released. I’ve written about this annual report from WWF and the Footprint Network before. I’ve probably mentioned it just about every year that I’ve been writing the blog, because every year it updates this graph:

This is one of the most important graphs in the world. It’s worth looking at it every year.


It shows, in case you haven’t seen it before, humanity’s ecological footprint. That’s the red line, and it includes our drawdown of renewable natural resources such as timber and fish, and our use of the earth’s systems to absorb and process our waste.

The green line, or green area in this case, is the earth’s biocapacity. This is the amount of resources and services that the earth can sustainably provide.

It can provide more resources, as the line shows – you can overshoot biocapacity. You just can’t do it forever. Every year of overshoot, you push the green area down, and next year the earth’s biocapacity will be that much smaller.

As the report says: “’overshoot’ is possible because – for now – we can cut trees faster than they mature, harvest more fish than the oceans can replenish, or emit more carbon into the atmosphere than the forests and oceans can absorb. The sum of all human demands no longer fits within what nature can renew. The consequences are diminished resource stocks and waste accumulating faster than it can be absorbed or recycled, such as with the growing carbon concentration in the atmosphere.”

To make sense of the idea that we’re apparently using the resources of 1.5 earths, despite just having the one, it is vital to understand that we’re talking about what our one earth can sustainably provide. What it can provide long term, if we manage resources properly. It also helps to know the components of our footprint:


The biggest resource here is the large and growing grey area, which represents the land area to absorb our carbon emissions every year. As we know, we are emitting carbon faster than the earth can absorb it, which is why concentrations in the atmosphere are rising.

We’re also using more land for crops and overfishing, but 53% of our footprint is the carbon element.

There is another extraordinary graph that is updated every year in the Living Planet Report. I will post that one another day, but if you want to browse the report, you’ll find it here.


  1. Reblogged this on Happy Simply – a sustainable lifestyle model & education project and commented:
    This is why I love the Happy, simply – a sustainable lifestyle model and education project. If we are overusing the planet there are wonderful alternatives. Happy, simply isn’t just about living simpler and better for people and the planet it is also about celebrating that kind of lifestyle that is richer for the soul, spiritually, for communities and of course for our finite resources…
    Continued economic growth isn’t possible on our planet plus it doesn’t make us happier anyway… so why do we continue with this failed system…?

    A good follow on this this graph and blog from Make Wealth History is the next post on Simplicity History from my other favourite resource – The Simplicity Institute:

    In personal news I have completed my Teaspoons of Change 1000km walk and 800km bike ride in Japan and will write a special Happy, simply reflection on the journey… but for now you can see some pics and posts here

  2. Why do we continue with this failed system? Because those in charge of the models we’re living by are profiting tremendously by it. That’s the simple answer. And they’re afraid of change. That’s another one. And they’re greedy and self-centered. Another answer.

    I really can’t see any change happening until we’re *forced* to change. I wish I could, but I can’t. There will be a small number of us who can see the bigger picture, and the rest will just trundle on, in the business as usual life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: