Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Our Planet Showing Effects of Over-Consumption 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, May 28 / 12

Zack Gross

The Living Planet Report released two weeks ago by the environmental conservation charity World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that the demand on Earth’s natural resources has become unsustainable and threatens our future. 

In the past 40 years, says the WWF, the planet’s biodiversity has been reduced by 30%, while humanity is now using resources as if we had a planet and a half, outstripping Earth’s ability to renew and maintain itself.

“We’re emptying the fridge, we’re not really taking care of the lawn…and we’re certainly not taking out the garbage”, says a WWF director, Colby Loucks. “The environment is Earth’s invisible economy and we are burning through our natural capital.”  We are, he says, 50% above our “bio-capacity” – our planet’s renewable resources, land and waste absorption capacity.

The WWF report has been published with the upcoming Rio+20 United Nations Earth Summit, coming up June 20 to 22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in mind. Twenty years ago, a similar event was held in Rio, where member states adopted Agenda 21, a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection – or so they thought!  Organizers hope that the 2012 Summit will come up with specific, concrete actions to kick-start a renewed initiative toward sustainable development.

Canadian scientist and environmental spokesperson David Suzuki expresses concern that our “rich world” likes to blame overpopulation for the poverty and environmental degradation that plagues our world. He points out that 20% of the world’s population – those of us living it up in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia – consume more than 80% of the world’s resources. And we are the ones, he says, who are blaming everyone else, especially the poor who consume very little.

While he calls upon us as individuals to change our consumption habits, he says that it is larger concerns, such as corporations, governments and world economic alliances that deserve most of the blame as the economic development policies they adopt don’t take into account the damage they cause. Population figures are being reduced – on average, the number of children born to each woman on the planet has dropped from 6 to 2.5 in the past sixty years. However, poverty remains and it is Mother Earth who is at risk.

The greatest resource hogs on Earth are rich oil states and wealthy consumer countries. Leading the pack with the greediest resource use and largest ecological footprint is Qatar, followed by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. After that are the big consumers: Denmark, the US, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands and Ireland. On the other side of the ledger, in tropical areas of the Earth, animal and plant species are disappearing at alarming rates with the worst situation being freshwater tropical fish species declining by 70% from 1970 to the present.

Australia is a case in point. It ranks seventh in negative environmental impact. If everyone lived like Australians, it would take three and three-quarter planet Earths to support humanity. Carbon emissions are the Aussies’ greatest contribution to environmental destruction. WWF’s Australian ecologist, Dr. Martin Taylor, says that his country has to find ways to limit the burning of fossil fuels, even if it means getting rid of government subsidies in order to force innovation and balanced living.

Canada, meanwhile, has become a major player in the resource extraction industry planet-wide, from the Oil Sands project in Alberta to mining on all the continents of the developing world. As the Rio+20 global environmental summit approaches, the WWF and other conservation organizations are urging governments to implement more efficient production systems that would reduce human demand for land, water and energy.

They are calling on cultural and policy changes that would measure a country’s success on more than its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – for instance, on its environmental stewardship. Suzuki says that similar to the economic situation that the “Occupy Movement” spoke out on, we are facing an environmental situation in which a tiny elite is living well by draining the resources and fouling the environment of the vast majority of people, especially those on the planet who are most vulnerable.

Says the WWF’s Loucks:  “We are approaching a planet with 9 billion people on it. . . In our planning and policies, we need to move beyond the election cycle and the quarterly report.” 

Without buy-in from the world’s most powerful economic engines, corporations and nation states, our natural capital will soon be bankrupt and our bio-capacity will be nil.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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