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All-consumin’ humans use 50% more than planet can offer – report

Published time: May 15, 2012 13:23
Edited time: May 15, 2012 17:23
A villager illegally cuts down a tree in a forest in the North Kolaka district of Indonesia's South Sulawesi province (Reuters/Yusuf Ahmad)

A villager illegally cuts down a tree in a forest in the North Kolaka district of Indonesia's South Sulawesi province (Reuters/Yusuf Ahmad)

We ask for more than what we have: humans are currently using the equivalent of one-and-a-half Earths to support our activities. Since 1970, humanity has destroyed almost one third of Earth’s biodiversity, says the World Wildlife Fund.

These are the key findings of the Living Planet Report 2012, which has just been released in Geneva.

The report is a biannual analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. It gives a detailed study on the physical conditions of our planet, demands on our planet and the solutions for our planet.

The demand section measures how much land and water people need to produce the resources they consume (such as food and timber), provide land for infrastructure, and absorb the carbon dioxide they generate. These figures are then compared to the planet’s biocapacity, which means nature's ability to meet this demand.

In 2007 alone, humanity’s ecological Footprint – an indicator of human pressure on nature – exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity by a startling 50 per cent. The report goes on to explain that an overshoot of 50 per cent means it would take 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people used in 2007 and absorb CO2 (carbon dioxide) waste.

It all started during the 1970s, when humanity as a whole began using more than the Earth could give. We passed the point at which the annual Ecological Footprint matched the Earth’s annual biocapacity and have continued to do so since then.

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And the Footprint per capita champion is…

Evidently not all countries are equal in terms of consumption. The footprint of high-income countries is three times that of middle-income countries, and five times that of low-income countries.

The US has the fifth-highest ecological footprint per capita. In fact, if the entire world lived like Americans, the report claims, more than four Earths-worth of resources and carbon absorption would be needed to meet demands. The four countries with larger ecological footprints are Qatar – the surprising first place – Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Denmark.

One third of Earth’s biodiversity already gone

Since 1970, humanity has destroyed some 30 per cent of Earth’s biodiversity. It means that on average, species (other than human) population sizes dropped by one third between 1970 and 2008. It is measured by The Living Planet Index, tracking average changes in animal populations from around the world.

It indicates freshwater species saw 35 per cent loss, marine species 25 per cent, and terrestrial a 24 per cent fall.

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