| It's a pity, we
have only one planet to live on. The latest planetary health assesment
shows we need 1.4 Earths to sustain the average lifestyle. If we don't
slow down, the report warns: "humanity is at risk".
The UN Environment Programme released its fourth Global Environment Outloock (GEO) report last week. And while the human ecological footprint is 21.9 hectares per person on average, the Earth biological capacity is just 15.7 hectares per person.
According to the Global Footprint Network, we went into ecological debt on 6 October this year, having consumed more than the planet can regenerate in one year. Similar footprint calculations found that Cuba is the only nation developing sustainably (Ecological Economic, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.08.017). So no matter how you spin it, we're in trouble.
GEO-4 countains an inventory of debt and its consequences. Five years in the making, it was put together by about 400 experts and reviewed by an additional 1000. Predictably, climate change is a major concern. "About half of our footprint is accounted for by the areas that are required to absorb our greenhouse gas emissions," says Neville Ash of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK.
| "The other half is the land
which produces our food, the forests which produce our timber, the oceans
and rivers which produce our fish."
The inflated size of our footprint is partially the result of the growth of the human population. Currently estimated at 6.7 billion people, it could raich 8 to l0 billion by 2050. Ash says we could sustain the current and projected population if we all lived sustainably, the question is how? Energy efficiency tops the list. For instance, energy demand is growing rapidly, especially in the developing nations. But the GEO-4 authors say the resulting growth in emissions by 2020 could be halved using existing technology.
This may not be enough. Robin Hickman of Halcrow Group, an energy consultancy, and David Banister of the University of Oxford modelled different futures, each of which relied on technological innovation and a reduction in travel by individuals. They concluded that changes in transport behaviour must be implemented now if the UK gouvernment is to meet its goal of reducing emissions from travel by 60% by 2030 (Transport Policy, vol 14, p.377).
New Scientist 3.7 1.2007 p. 13