Consuming our planet

Quite a few years back, I remember hearing a fanciful prediction on the grapevine that by the year 2025, the amount of goods manufactured that year would outweigh the Earth. We crank out a lot of products in our various industries, but that is an impossibility – on so many levels.

But that wasn’t the prediction at all – it got somewhat mangled as it was passed around. Where it originated, I don’t know, but what I believe it referred to is sustainability – what resources the Earth could *sustainably* provide in a single year.

For most of us these days, it’s not news that the entire population of the planet simply can’t have the lifestyles that we in the west have too as the Earth cannot provide the level of resources needed. In that respect, the 2025 date has been brought forward. Worse still, the number of “Earths” needed to maintain our lifestyles is growing.

According to a recent report from environmental think tank, Global Footprint Network, humanity would now need five Earths to produce the resources needed if everyone lived the typical US lifestyle (or the Australian lifestyle I would say too as it is quite similar).  

How is this possible? Regardless, isn’t it great then that everyone can’t live like us? Not really – the planet cannot sustain even the current ratio of haves and have-nots.

Issues of social justice aside, currently it’s taking the Earth just under 18 months to produce the ecological services humanity needs in one year. Essentially, we’re racking up a huge ecological debt, one that will no doubt be called in at some stage if we don’t catch up with our repayments.

According to the organization, the United Arab Emirates has the highest ecological footprint per capita at 26 global acres per person. The average American has an ecological footprint of 23 acres. The average European has a footprint of half that; but still it’s more land required that what a single earth can provide if all were living the same.

There’s an interesting chart (PDF) on the Global Footprint Network site showing the Earth impact of many countries. Australia isn’t on it for some reason, but given Australians have the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world; no doubt we’d be up there with countries like the USA.

As I’ve said so often over the last few years – going green isn’t just about buying the right products – it’s about using less of what we don’t really need – green or otherwise. Going green doesn’t have to be about doing something. It can be about doing nothing – not consuming at the levels we currently are.


Population control – ultimate greening
Consumption statistics