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Got a spare Earth?

Written By: - Date published: 8:15 am, October 19th, 2010 - 32 comments
Categories: Conservation, International, sustainability - Tags: ,

Does anyone have a spare Earth? Or two — or three? If so, could you please speak up, because humanity is going to need two Earth’s worth of resources by 2030.

This is the headline news from the WWF in their 2010 Living Planet Report. According to the media backgrounder summary:

The Ecological Footprint tracks the area of biologically productive land and water required to provide the renewable resources people use, and includes the space needed for infrastructure and vegetation to absorb waste carbon dioxide (CO2). It shows an alarming and consistent trend: one of continuous growth.

In 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, the Footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity — the area actually available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 — by 50 per cent.

Overall, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has doubled since 1966. …

The Ecological Footprint exceeded the earth’s biocapacity by 50 per cent – meaning it takes 1.5 years for the Earth to produce the resources humanity consumes in a single year.

Humanity used the equivalent of 1.5 planets in 2007 to support its activities. If everyone in the world lived like an average resident of the United States or the United Arab Emirates, then a biocapacity equivalent to more than 4.5 Earths would be required to keep up with humanity’s consumption and CO2 emissions. By 2030 humanity will need the capacity of 2 Earths to absorb CO2 waste and keep up with natural resource consumption, and just over 2.8 planets each year by 2050.

I guess this must be fairly boring or unimportant news, because I haven’t seen any coverage at all in the (mostly Western) media that I keep an eye on. It was a brief mention on Slashdot that caught my eye, and now Google tells me that the only significant coverage seems to be in India (e.g. here, here, here, here). Perhaps the rest of the world will pick it up eventually.

It’s a pretty simple message really. We can’t have infinite growth in a finite system. The end of growth is clearly in sight. We are overreaching ourselves, and there will be consequences. Those that survive the unwinding of growth in good shape will be those that start planning for it now.

32 comments on “Got a spare Earth?”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    It’s a pretty simple message really. We can’t have infinite growth in a finite system.

    It’s simpler than that – we can’t support what we have never mind having any more growth.

    Those that survive the unwinding of growth in good shape will be those that start planning for it now.

    /agreed
    We need to become self-sufficient in as many ways as possible as fast as possible and we need to build our defenses so that when the shit really hits the fan (which it will do when people realise that there just isn’t enough for everyone) we can prevent others from taking away what we have.

  2. M 2

    Some commentators reckon it’s worse than that – that we’ll need six or seven earths to cope.

    I’m a fan of the steady state economy – growth as a concept is dead in the water on a finite planet but as some writers say the corporates won’t be happy until every last thing is dead so they can then say “Hurray, we did it!”

    The diachronic mindset has persisted for too long – time to pay the piper.

    Like this site on the steady state economies:

    http://steadystate.org/discover/downsides-of-economic-growth/

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      1.5 Earths required for present activities. To get every one out of poverty to an average of that of western nations requires 4.5. There’s absolutely no way we can keep going the way we are and yet that’s all the politicians promise us. The silly thing about it is if we dropped the pursuit of profit and the growth needed to sustain them we’d have better living standards than we do now.

  3. KJT 3

    Politicians are still talking about growth.

    Unfortunately we will not be able to have a sustainable economy with an economic system that requires constant growth to maintain itself.

    We still think we are going to out export every other country that thinks the same thing.
    Or we are just going to keep borrowing from China to buy their products. Exporting our rape of resources.

    The country that does the best will be the one that is most advanced in sustainable energy and resource use. It should be treated like a war. Money is always available for a war.

  4. Shane Gallagher 4

    This is why we need a new government desperately. Not just because NACT are a bunch of rwnjs but because we have to try to save ourselves from the slow moving train wreck that is the world economy as it is currently structured. Neither NACT nor Labour have grasped in any substantial way what needs to happen; one is a 19th century political party, Labour is 20th century. We need a 21st century political sensibility to take hold.

    • grumpy 4.1

      FFS, as if anything NZ can do will influence things. The only impact on NZ from this is the threat of invasion by resouirce hungry countries to take advantage of our locked up resources.

      The real issue here is the threat to NZ full stop!

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        FFS, as if anything NZ can do will influence things.

        Anti nuclear stance.

      • Bright Red 4.1.2

        “FFS, as if anything NZ can do will influence things”

        yeah, that’s why we should have stayed out of World War 2 as well, eh grumpy? After all, we didn’t determine the outcome, we should have jsut stayed at home.

        Any community and individual can say it is relatively small in the global scale. Each community and individual has the responsibility to do its part or no-one does anything and you end up with a tragedy of the commons.

        • Zorr 4.1.2.1

          Would also add to this that preparing for the reality in our local communities (whether that is at a local, national or international level) will help us and the people around us. We don’t necessarily need to save the world, just do our best to save ourselves in our own interests and work from there.

          We can’t expect to control others, we can only make the correct decisions for ourselves and hope to influence their decisions through our own actions and leadership.

        • grumpy 4.1.2.2

          I thought all you lefties were mini Keith Lockes and against all wars (except those supporting Pol Pot). Don’t think you are correct in NZ having no effect on the outcome, Keith Park did a bloody good job – for one!

    • Colonial Viper 4.2

      Sorry to see you didn’t get into DCC, Shane, you should have been part of a large new group on Council.

      And that is really the problem isn’t it? The majority are not ready for, or willing to accept, what you might call a “21st century political sensibility”. They won’t support it wholesale. And frustrating as it may be, in a democracy that means that you will be relegated to being a minority party/coalition partner.

      This is not even mentioning the forces which are trying to drag us back to an 18th/19th century mindset.

      The transition in attitudes and awareness is ongoing and might occur over a relatively short period of time. It might happen relatively quickly: 20-30 years.

      Even so, the 21st century political sensibility you speak of needs to occur in both Labour and in the Greens. Neither has the complete set of detailed answers yet which will be both widely acceptable and implementable.

  5. Jeremy Harris 5

    Growth through increasing resource use ad infinitum is of course impossible but growth via discarded resources, efficiency and new resource exploitation can continue for a very, very long time…

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Well, it could if we were already sustainable but we aren’t (too many people). No amount of efficiency gains can change that.

      And WTF are economists so stupid as to apply a word to the concept that they’re talking about which means one thing and then, decades later, try to say that it means something completely different? If they wanted to say “increased efficiency” then they should have damn well said that and not growth as they are not the same. ATM, they seem to be on a quest to change the meaning of the word capitalist to have the same meaning as the word entrepreneur.

      • Jeremy Harris 5.1.1

        Growth comes in many forms, and means many things, one of which is increased efficiency… So growth does in part mean greater efficiency and always has…

        To think it means one thing or another only is pretty obtuse and displays why you support the glorious (and so successful) North Korean policy of Juche…

        • Zorr 5.1.1.1

          Growth in efficiency isn’t infinite either though. It is one of the myths currently being perpetrated that advances in technology will save us. There is a limit and we are already reaching it.

          Unless of course you are able to discover dilithium. At which point we can all proclaim you as saviour.

        • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.2

          Growth
          Nothing in there about efficiency. If you want to say growth in efficiency then you actually need to say growth in efficiency or increased efficiency and not just growth and assume that everybody knows WTF you’re talking about because they probably won’t. Growth by itself has the meaning of something getting bigger.

          English is a very contextual language and economists seem to leave out the context that actually gives their statements the meaning that economists then say that they have.

          • Zorr 5.1.1.2.1

            Sorry bout that Draco. You are correct in stating that what I was meaning was “increased efficiency”

            Wrong language used due to moron poster above… 😛

            • Jeremy Harris 5.1.1.2.1.1

              @DTB, I didn’t just say growth and expect everyone knew what I meant, I referred to three kinds, it is myth to think that growth comes in only one form – increased non-renewable resource use…

              @Zorr, pretty poor to have to resort to insults…

              There is no doubt the next 20 years are going to see a big decline in wealth, much of our current wealth has been based on increase non-renewable resource but that does not mean that it is the only form of growth possible, there are technologies that can to utilise landfill and other waste sources turning into power and oil, we have solar, tidal and wind, etc options, we can reuse certain metals over and over, we have technologies such as telcoms, genetics, nanotechnology etc in early development that will markedly increase efficiency…

              Also as wealth increase population growth rates are dropping, eventually they will reach decline…

              Peak oil will be a massive transisition from our current overuse but I’m optimistic about the future…

              • Draco T Bastard

                hmmm…

                I wasn’t actually speaking about you per sé just making a basic rant. Jim Stanford in his book Economics for Everyone even has page or two on why growth means something different in economics terms than everywhere else.

                Sorry for the confusion.

  6. randal 6

    hey doncha know it is my god given right to use as much stuff as I can afford.
    all the philosophes, hobbes, locke, hume, voltaire, marx etc etc have told me that private property is sacrosanct and therefore I can do anything I like with what is mine.
    i.e. stink up the whole planet just so as I can have more stuff than the guy next door.
    nifty.
    aint it.

  7. I’m still not hearing much about climate and environment policy from Labour. There seems to be little talk about climate change since Helen Clark left the leadership role and David Parker stepped away from the climate role.

    Time to step up on environment policy, if you want the greens to be in a coalition Government with you. Brownlee should be an easy target for Labour. Mining in National Parks dented him, why not finish the job.

  8. M 8

    any gains in efficiency = progress trap 🙁

  9. Thomas Forrow 9

    It will probably be for the best if we all just voted for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

  10. To keep Kiwi Saver alive we have to kill the environment (the human friendly one), I will vote for any party that promises to stop this growth based ponzi savings scam … oh and who NEVER voted for it in the first place … dose that leave anyone? For some reason the Greed Party thought it was ok … go figure?
    And sorry to harp on but if the latest report http://oilcrash.com/articles/wake_up2.htm (ignored by Blinglish, Brownlee, and Key John Il and I am sure Geoff & co also) is correct and we are going to see the brown stuff hitting the rotating device around 2012, then it doesn’t matter who you vote for marshal law is a given.
    If I bother hanging around I will be able to say I told ya so in a few years, just as I am now about so many things ‘we’ predicted.
    Ignoring the facts does not mean they will go away, the Easter Islanders discovered that http://oilcrash.com/articles/easter.htm

  11. SNIP oil and gas – which were formed over millions of years. Today the world burns 400 years worth of this accumulated, biological matter every year, 3 to 4 times more than 1956. While plants are renewable resource, fossil carbon is not. END SNIP
    http://www.navdanya.org/climate-change/climate-change-and-biodiversity

    And from George Monbiot (another troll?)
    In 2003, the biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter “containing 44 x 10 to the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet’s current biota.” In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries’ worth of plants and animals.
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/12/06/worse-than-fossil-fuel/

    These facts were known in 2003. When did the greens gave us Kiwi Saver ? Even the name is an oxymoron … for KS to pay out an 18yo in 47 years … and keep paying. Kiwis will have to go extinct. The greeds are telling 18 year olds to vote for them because they are the only hope, yet fail to say anything about the money KS is steeling from everyone.
    Am I the only one that thinks this is wrong?
    And least we forget 2012 is only 431 days away, and I am not talking Mayan calendar rubbish.
    If we are going to find a new planet we better hurry up, as this one will rid herself of this pesky species.

  12. NickS 12

    Huh?

    I could have sworn the Rand-bots and libertarians with the techno-fetishes would have done a drive by proclaiming SPACE as the answer, leading to me wielding the cluebat with glee 🙁

    Anyhow, the best post I’ve thus far come across is The High Frontier, Redux by the kick-arse sci-fi author Charles Stross. It’s long, and comes with a 800+ comment thread, but the post itself is not to hard on the brain 😛

    So here’s the basics:

    1) Energy + reaction mass, just because it’s weightless, doesn’t mean it no longer has mass. i.e. you need to chuck stuff out the rear end to move a space-vehicle, not to mention the energy to kick that mass out. And while ion-thrusters are looking good, they still need an energy source to work, not to mention kick said energy source into orbit. Note, outside the orbit of Mars, solar energy starts to become a lot less useful in terms of energy density, fusion is still a pipe dream and we’ll likely be using radioactives on earth for domestic and industrial energy.

    2) Life support. Monkeys in a can actually require a good deal of water, food, and shielding to stay viable, on top of recycling loop equipment, all of which adds to the mass of your space vehicle. And thus your reaction mass and energy requirements. And add in social requirements to keep your monkeys sane, and well, you can see where that’s heading…

    3) Distance. As Douglas Adam’s put it, space is big. So very, very big, that the vast majority of people can’t grok it. Distances, which without a uber means of moving about, means it will take time, lots of time, to cross even small distances. In particular, the material in the Asteroid Belt isn’t close together like in most science fantasy presentations*, and adding in orbits, it leads to all sorts of fun with delta vee costs and time required to send information and matter from place to place.

    4) AI: in the absence of humans, you need systems that will do the job and deal with damage, fuck-ups, windows patches, gremlins and Murphy’s Law. Systems that are presently still in infancy, and in the event of being deployed in space, need to be shielded.

    5) Space weather: Solar flares are not your friend. Nor are high energy cosmic particles and radiation.

    6) Economics. Economics. Economics. i.e. it’s probably cheaper to recycle, and increase efficiencies and make birth control and family planing widespread, than to throw monkeys into space.

    And one last thing: we still suck at building closed ecosystems, which are rather better at carbon, oxygen and water cycling than the machines we presently have.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      AI: in the absence of humans, you need systems that will do the job and deal with damage, fuck-ups, windows patches

      As in MS Windows patches? 😯

      • NickS 12.1.1

        Well, Microsoft does have major market share, on top of funding a lot of research 😛

        *ahem*

        I pinched the idea from Ken MacLeod’s book Newton’s Wake. Where fossil MS Windows patches still lurk, like endogenous retroviruses, waiting to awake and cause potential trouble 😛

  13. Zarchoff 13

    “Humanity used the equivalent of 1.5 planets in 2007 to support its activities”

    What the f**k? How did humanity do that then – has the UN got another planet tucked away somewhere we don’t know about? This is a completely meaningless statistic because obviously it is impossible to use more resources than the world currently has. The word “equivalent” is the weasel word here. 1.5 planets? Which planet? Mars? It suggests that the UN has a standard approved theoretical world resource useage model that it has used to compare with what has happened in reality. More f**king bulls**t computer models that are flawed from the outset.

    So, I will see you all in 2030 when the sky hasn’t fallen, the climate hasn’t dramatically warmed and the world hasn’t run out of resources.

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