Saturday, October 23, 2004

Consumption of Resources Outstripping Planet's Ability to Copes

Humans currently consume 20 percent more natural resources than the Earth can produce, the report said.

"We are spending nature's capital faster than it can regenerate," said WWF chief Claude Martin, releasing the 40-page study. "We are running up an ecological debt which we won't be able to pay off unless governments restore the balance between our consumption of natural resources and the Earth's ability to renew them." ...

Use of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil increased by almost 700 percent between 1961 and 2001, the study said.

Burning fossil fuels - in power plants and automobiles, for example - releases carbon dioxide, which experts say contributes to global warming. The planet is unable to keep pace and absorb the emissions, WWF said.

Populations of land, freshwater and marine species fell on average by 40 percent between 1970 and 2000. The report cited urbanization, forest clearance, pollution, overfishing and the introduction by humans of nonnative animals, such as cats and rats, which often drive out indigenous species.

"The question is how the world's entire population can live with the resources of one planet," said Jonathan Loh, one of the report's authors.

The study, WWF's fifth since 1998, examined the "ecological footprint" of the planet's entire population. ...

The world's 6.1 billion people leave a collective footprint of 33.36 billion acres, 5.44 acres per person. To allow the Earth to regenerate, the average should be no more than 4.45 acres, said WWF.

The impact of an average North American is double that of a European, but seven times that of the average Asian or African.

Residents of the United Arab Emirates, who use air conditioning extensively, leave a 24.46-acre footprint, two-thirds caused by fossil fuel use. The average U.S. resident leaves a 23.47-acre footprint, also largely from fuel. ...

Loh said governments, businesses and consumers should switch to energy-efficient technology, such as solar power.

"We can consume energy in a way that's harmful or in a way that's sustainable," he said. "The technologies are available to enable the world's population to live within the capacity of one planet."

High oil prices may help focus their minds.

"But it's not a question of how much oil is left," he said. "The question we should be asking is how much fossil fuel consumption the Earth can sustain. The Earth has a limited capacity."


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