Ecological credit crunch as human footprint expands

According to the Living Planet Report, we’re now using nature’s resources and producing waste at a rate 30 percent higher than Earth can renew and absorb each year.

I’ve been wondering if anyone besides me has noticed a certain similarity between the attitudes of those who created the current U.S. credit crisis … and the attitudes of us in the developed world who each year borrow more Earth resources than Earth has to lend.

The Global Footprint Network has noticed. They earlier brought us the mind-blowing personal footprint calculator, which asks the question: how many planets does it take to support your lifestyle?

Today, the Global Footprint Network announced that – at the current rate humanity as a whole is using natural resources and producing waste – by the early 2030s our human species will require the resources of two entire planets to meet our needs. These estimates are according to new figures released today by Global Footprint Network, WWF and the Zoological Society of London. The email they sent announcing this news was titled Humanity Facing Ecological Credit Crunch.

Every two years, the Global Footprint Network publishes what it calls the (pdf) Living Planet Report, which explores what Earth offers versus what humanity feels it needs. Two years ago, Global Footprint Network data suggested that the human species would need two planets by 2050. More recent data suggests the much-earlier date – 2030 – around the time that children born today will be entering the workforce.

According to the Living Planet Report, humanity is now using nature’s resources and producing waste (primarily carbon dioxide) at a rate 30 percent higher than what the planet can renew and absorb each year. That’s why – each year – we reach what the Global Footprint Network calls Earth Overshoot Day, the day on which we begin using more resources and producing more waste than Earth can handle for that year. Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier each year, partly because Earth’s population continues to grow, and also because the standards of the developed world are spreading around the globe.

Why, you may ask, aren’t we seeing the effects of so much resource overuse – plus the excess carbon dioxide – if both are so out of whack? The answer is that we are seeing the overuse in the form of deforestation, water shortages and declining biodiversity, to name a few. And we’re seeing the excess carbon manifest in nature as climate change, whose ongoing effects are bound to alter Earth’s flora and fauna profoundly in this century, according to scientists.

Speaking of its 2008 (pdf) Living Planet Report, the Global Footprint Network said, “this new data comes at a critical time, when the current economic crisis felt around the globe has made it painstakingly clear: debt and overspending can continue for a while, but ultimately they have dire consequences.”

What to do? In the immortal words of Aretha Franklin: you better think.

The image above is from Marcelometa‘s photostream.

Deborah Byrd