Notre empreinte écologique

[NewScientist] My ecological footprint is large. So probably is yours. But can we measure it objectively? Not just our carbon footprint, which is all the rage just now, but our entire impact on the planet.

Some scientists are trying to do just that. They are the people who from time to time warn that we are using the resources of 1.2 planets and will need two planets by 2050. Obviously we are only actually using the resources of one planet right now. So what exactly do they mean?

I asked Mathis Wackernagel, director of the Global Footprint Network and one of the gurus of the business. He calculates the average citizen on the planet needs 2.2 hectares of productive croplands, pastures, wetlands, forests and coastal fishing grounds to get by, compared with the 1.8 hectares per head that the planet has available.

So, he says:

We are harvesting trees faster than they can regrow; taking nutrients from soils faster than they can be replenished; depleting fish stocks faster than they can restock; and emitting carbon dioxide into the air faster than nature can reabsorb it. Overshoot will ultimately liquidate the planet’s ecological assets.

Of course, the rich world is largely to blame. Europe’s global footprint is currently 4.7 hectares per person, roughly twice its productive land area. Worse still, says Gorn Dige, a footprint analyst at the European Environment Agency: « Europe’s share of the world’s resources is rising even as our share of the world’s population is falling. »

But the footprint of Europeans looks small compared with Australians and Canadians, who require between 7 and 8 hectares each, and Americans at 9.7 hectares. At the lower end, the Chinese require around 2 hectares, and Indians 0.7 hectares.
(28 August 2007)

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