An increasing number of voices in the past two weeks are reminding people that though many nations are facing some serious financial problems at the moment, collectively we’re facing a problem with longer lasting and greater existential consequences than anything we have seen before. In short we are destroying our planet’s natural capital at rates which will create ecological insolvency on a scale with dire implications for humanity and many other species. Reenforcing this idea is the latest Living Planet Report by WWF.
This is how James Leape, director-general of WWF International describes the problem:Reckless Overconsumption of Natural Resources
Reckless consumption is depleting the world’s natural capital to a point where we are endangering our future prosperity. The Living Planet Index shows that over the past 35 years along the Earth’s wildlife populations have declined by a third.
Yet our demands to continue to escalate, driven by the relentless growth in human population and in individual consumption. Our global footprint now exceeds the world’s capacity to regenerate by about 30%. If our demands on the planet continue at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles. [...]
The ecological credit crunch is a global challenge. The Living Planet Report 2008 tells us that more than three quarters of the world’s people 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.
The full Living Planet Report 2008 goes into detail about the many ways we are depleting our natural capital, and I encourage readers to download and examine the full document, but for those with a little bit less time on their hands here are some excerpted charts to give you an idea of how bad things are:
Return to Sustainability is Possible
As to how we can return to sustainability, WWF advises that we need to reduce natural resource demand by reducing population levels, individual consumption, and lowering the resources used and waste products emitted by producing goods and services.
Ultimately we must look at the problem as a whole: We need to address energy consumption, population and material consumption, patterns of global trade, and management of biocapacity together
The following two charts present WWF’s business as usual and ‘return to sustainability’ scenarios (admittedly they're a bit short on details but you get the idea):
We Must Change Willingly or The Earth Will Force Change Upon Us
This is certainly more easily said that done, but failure to do so will create (and I say this without hyperbole) a situation which will be catastrophic for the survival of humanity on anything approaching its current population levels.
More at: WWF
all images: WWF
Your Ecological Footprint: Defining, Calculating, and Reducing Your Environmental Footprint
One More Step to Ecological Insolvency: September 23rd is Earth Overshoot Day 2008
Natural Capital Depletion
Planet’s Retirement Account Loses $2-5 Trillion Every Year: Natural Capital Loss ‘Dwarfs Bank Crisis’
China Being Submerged in Sand: Desertification Spreads 1,300 Square Mile Per Year