'Save for a rainy day' goes the old adage. Yet humanity has done the opposite, spending the world's natural capital faster than it can replenish itself. We are digging ourselves deeper and deeper into ecological debt.

Fish and forestry stocks are not infinite. Neither are fossil fuels, arable land or freshwater sources. Of the world's major fishing grounds, 47 per cent are fully fished, 15 per cent are overexploited and 10 per cent are already depleted. Each year, the earth loses fertile land roughly the size of Ireland - eroded through overuse and deforestation. The crisis is rapidly increasing. World population is projected to reach
9 billion by 2050, and the demands of the affluent minority are growing: the richest 1 per cent of the world's population already consumes as many resources as the poorest
44 per cent.

Treading lightly on the earth has never been more critical. Using the ecological footprint, a modern environmental indicator, we can calculate our natural resource consumption and compare it against the earth's ability to renew itself.

The sum of our individual footprints determines our global ecological footprint, or humankind's total consumption and waste discharge. The latest reports suggest that we are consuming 20 per cent more resources than our planet can provide. At this rate, we will deplete existing stores long before the earth can replace them - and we may run out completely in the next 50 years.

 

Some see scientific advances in energy and agriculture as the answer. The Green Revolution, which began in Mexico in 1944, dramatically increased crop yields and helped global grain production per hectare to double between 1950 and 1990. But it often made poverty (and thus hunger) worse, benefiting rich farmers most and driving poorer ones off the land - while the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides caused environmental damage. But other innovations can really help like those, for example, that exploit renewable energy sources, increase the efficiency with which we use energy and water, and conserve the soil.

There is a dilemma. The poor must move out of poverty. But if all the world's people lived as the richest do today, driving cars, flying frequently and living in air-conditioned homes, we would need the equivalent of 5.1 planets to support ourselves. The only answer is to live sustainably, avoiding waste, and using resources more efficiently - living within the capacity of our one planet. Many studies suggest that people in developed countries, and the middle classes in developing ones, could reduce resource use tenfold without sacrificing living standards, making room for everyone to live decently.

You can measure your own ecological footprint by taking a quiz at www.earthday.net/footprint/index.asp, and comparing it against national and global averages. There are many simple steps that everyone can take to help reverse current trends and return to 'One Planet Living'.

 

 
         
   
         
 

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