Last week the 2014 edition of the Living Planet Report was released. I’ve written about this annual report from WWF and the Footprint Network before. I’ve probably mentioned it just about every year that I’ve been writing the blog, because every year it updates this graph:
This is one of the most important graphs in the world. It’s worth looking at it every year.
It shows, in case you haven’t seen it before, humanity’s ecological footprint. That’s the red line, and it includes our drawdown of renewable natural resources such as timber and fish, and our use of the earth’s systems to absorb and process our waste.
The green line, or green area in this case, is the earth’s biocapacity. This is the amount of resources and services that the earth can sustainably provide.
It can provide more resources, as the line shows – you can overshoot biocapacity. You just can’t do it forever. Every year of overshoot, you push the green area down, and next year the earth’s biocapacity will be that much smaller.
As the report says: “’overshoot’ is possible because – for now – we can cut trees faster than they mature, harvest more fish than the oceans can replenish, or emit more carbon into the atmosphere than the forests and oceans can absorb. The sum of all human demands no longer fits within what nature can renew. The consequences are diminished resource stocks and waste accumulating faster than it can be absorbed or recycled, such as with the growing carbon concentration in the atmosphere.”
To make sense of the idea that we’re apparently using the resources of 1.5 earths, despite just having the one, it is vital to understand that we’re talking about what our one earth can sustainably provide. What it can provide long term, if we manage resources properly. It also helps to know the components of our footprint:
The biggest resource here is the large and growing grey area, which represents the land area to absorb our carbon emissions every year. As we know, we are emitting carbon faster than the earth can absorb it, which is why concentrations in the atmosphere are rising.
We’re also using more land for crops and overfishing, but 53% of our footprint is the carbon element.
There is another extraordinary graph that is updated every year in the Living Planet Report. I will post that one another day, but if you want to browse the report, you’ll find it here.