where checking accounts rebuild communities
Back to homepageInstitutional ReportsSRI Financial Professionals DirectoryToolsNewsSRI Performance and TrendsAbout Us   

December 11, 2002
Humans' Overuse of Earth's Resources Exceeds Sustainability by 20 Percent
    by William Baue

A new report on the ecological footprints of 146 nations documents unsustainable consumption, a phenomenon that, unchecked, will deplete the world's natural resources.

Redefining Progress, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that promotes economic reorientation to prioritize people and nature, released a report late last month documenting the "Ecological Footprints" of 146 nations. An Ecological Footprint, a concept pioneered by one of the report's authors, Mathis Wackernagel, conservatively estimates humanity's pressure on global ecosystems. The report compares this consumption rate to the nation's "biocapacity," or its capacity to provide biological resources. Research Associates Chad Monfreda and Diana Deumling coauthored the report with Dr. Wackernagel.

"Humanity's Ecological Footprint exceeds the Earth's biological capacity by 20 percent," said Dr. Wackernagel, who directs Redefining Progress's Sustainability Program. Redefining Progress receives financial support from the Columbia Foundation and the Merck Family Fund, among other donors. "Many nations, including the United States, are running even larger ecological deficits. As a consequence of this overuse, the human economy is liquidating the Earth's natural capital."

The report, entitled Ecological Footprints of Nations November 2002 Update, measures Ecological Footprints in "global acres" (an acre is roughly equivalent to the area of a football field minus the end zones). The Ecological Footprint includes in its calculation how human consumption and waste production offset the biological productivity of land and water. The report compares the ecological footprint of a nation on a per capita basis to its corresponding per capita biocapacity. This comparison reveals a surplus or deficit of global acres available to produce resources and process waste.

In this framework, sustainability is achieved by maintaining an Ecological Footprint equal to or less than biocapacity. According to the report's calculations, which were based primarily on data published by United Nations agencies and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we began exceeding the sustainability of our planet's resources in the late 1970s.

According to statistics from 1999 (the latest available data), the United States's Ecological Footprint stood at 24 acres and its biocapacity at 13 acres per capita. The resulting ecological deficit stood at 10.9 global acres per capita (rounded numbers account for the mathematical imprecision). In other words, the United States's Ecological Footprint was almost double its biocapacity, so this country is depleting its biological resources twice as fast as is sustainable.

While this statistic sounds alarming, the true figure is probably even more distressing, as the report purposefully estimates conservatively to avoid overstating its case. For example, the report does not take into account the use of materials that the biosphere cannot assimilate, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), plutonium, and other radioactive materials used in nuclear energy production.

The report makes numerous recommendations for regaining a balance between consumption and biocapacity.

"Fossil fuel consumption accounts for over half of industrial nations' footprints," states the report. "Increasing reliance on non-fossil energy systems such as solar and wind power has great footprint reduction potential."


| Reports | SRI Financial Professionals Directory | Tools | News | SRI Performance and Trends | About Us | Contact
© SRI World Group, Inc. - All rights reserved
Terms of use - Privacy Policy - OneReportTM Network