Headed into Ecological Overshoot … Again?

Did you know that the United States consumes up to 30% of the world’s resources and generates nearly 30% of the world’s wastes?  All this with just 4.5% of the world’s population!  Did you know that by 2010, the U.S was using global resources at a rate that would require 4.4 planets to sustain?  And in 2011, the Global Footprint Network projected that the world would consume 135 percent of the resources the planet created that same year.  Stated another way, every nine months, we demand a level of services from nature equivalent to that which it takes the planet 12 months to produce.

How are we doing this?  To support our consumption, we have been liquidating stocks of fish, trees and other resources and accumulating wastes such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. Technology has helped expand biological productivity over the years, but that expansion is not keeping pace with the rate at which population and resource demand have expanded.

Ecological overshoot is possible, but only for a limited time, because ecosystems start to degrade and ultimately collapse. The effects of using resources at a rate faster than they can be regenerated is evident in water shortages, desertification, erosion, reduced cropland productivity, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid extinction of species, collapse of fisheries, and global climate change.  Staying on this course diminishes our room to maneuver, and paces the well-being of humanity increasingly at risk.

Is It Too Late to Make a Change?

NO!  Individuals and institutions worldwide first must begin to recognize ecological limits. We then need to make ecological limits a central consideration in our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live, within the earth’s bounds.  This means reducing demand as well as investing in technology and infrastructure that will allow us to operate in a resource-constrained world. It means taking individual action, and creating the public demand for businesses and policy makers to participate.

Did you know that the United States has been at the forefront of developing innovative solutions to reverse this trend by reducing consumption levels and increasing resource use efficiency and biocapacity, with vigorous market demand for green buildings and more sustainable forms of transportation? Yes – we rank fifth w/respect to exceeding the earth’s biocapacity, but over the past few years we have moved from third to fifth, reducing our per capita footprint from 9.7 hectares to 8.0 hectares.

Susan Burns, sustainability expert and CEO of Global Footprint Network says: “It is possible to develop solutions and pathways that take us on-track to a sustainable world by 2050 through major and mutually supporting changes in how we run our societies, industry, economy, policy, lifestyles and values”.  But she underscores the need to act quickly.

A Call to ACTION

Make 2012 the year you work for positive change!  Join Eco-Justice Collaborative in our efforts to raise awareness of the impacts of our consumptive lifestyles on our planet and all who inhabit it.  Pledge to do your part to conserve resources by using less, adopting practices that efficiently use resources, and finding ways to close utilization loops in your home and community in order to reduce waste. Partner with us as we work with others to create a Chicago Bioneers chapter that will highlight innovative thinking that both inspires and promotes solutions that allow us to live on earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.

Pam and Lan
Eco-Justice Collaborative

For more on Ecological Overshoot, visit: Global Footprint Network

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