Group warns that ecological debt is growing, but who pays the bill?
According to the Global Footprint Network, today August 21st is Earth Overshoot Day: “…the day of the year in which human demand on the biosphere exceeds what it can regenerate.” From here on, we are in the red, creating more CO2, extracting more raw materials and generally living beyond the means of our natural capital and the earth’s ability to regenerate it.
Debt – ecological or otherwise – isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you invest the capital well or use it to spread expense over the useful life of an item. But borrowing against the future simply to fund a lavish lifestyle or operate beyond ones means is seldom a good idea, and that’s what the GFN folks believe we are doing. As they say “For the rest of the year, we will meet our ecological demand by depleting resource stocks and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere…Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages are all clear signs: We can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing.”
Apparently we were living under the collective global budget until the 1980′s, which makes returning to a balanced ecological checkbook seem well within reach. Maybe we should just roll back….I thought the 80′s were a pretty cool time, although their are those who point to big hair, excessive shoulder pads, Rick Astley, and Culture Club and respectfully disagree.
But GFN released a video which shows where this over-consumption occurs. If everone lived like Americans, we would need 5 earths, and in the U.S. overshoot day actually occurred somewhere around St. Patrick’s day in March. In Europe, they only make it into May. The US and Europe would have to roll back a lot further to get into balance.
Even though many in the West are starting to hit the eco-brakes, the video makes the underlying problem clear. The environmental ‘spending gap’ between the West and India and China is huge, and standards of living in the Global South and East are bound to rise faster than consumption of natural capital falls elsewhere. In fact as consumption slows in the West, corporations and governments are targeting developing markets for growth, and enthusiastically encouraging the increased consumption that comes with it.
Some innovative and holistic solutions are needed. “The good news”, GPN’s Mathis Wackernagel points out, “is, much of the technology we have to begin to address this problem is available and it is open source: things like compact urban design, energy-efficient housing, ecological tax reform, removal of resource subsidies, safe and affordable family planning, bicycles, low-meat diets, and life-cycle costing.”