Like a community that draws down its well faster than it can recharge, humanity has been living beyond its means. It has been over a month since Earth Overshoot Day (August 22), the day marking when humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year. The notion of Ecological Overshoot (when our collective demand on nature exceeds the biosphere’s supply, or regenerative capacity) can sometimes seem abstract. When millions of citizens from economically wealthy nations can still go to fully-stocked stores and have relatively high living standards, it is easy to justify business-as-usual policies.
Yet recent headlines reveal overshoot’s all-too-real consequences. In recent months we’ve heard about fish stocks collapsing and degradation of coral reefs due to overfishing and ocean warming; shortages and rapid price increases of commodities (like wheat and corn) due to water scarcity and extreme heat; deforestation; and literally drawing down our wells (see Footprint Briefs).
Some regions may be more vulnerable than others in the medium-term. For example, the Persian Gulf may be one of the hardest-hit regions in terms of fisheries decline due to climate change and acidification. The nations of the Mediterranean region nearly tripled their demand for ecological resources and services, and the region increased its ecological deficit by 230 percent, in the past fifty years (see story below on the launch of the new Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends report).
Fortunately, we are seeing heightened awareness of our Ecological Footprint and the economic implications of resource constraints and climate-altering carbon emissions, both in the public realm (see Walkable Footprint and the extensive international media coverage of Earth Overshoot Day) and among national and financial leaders (see Upcoming Events).
For example, in 2009 Ecuador became the first nation to incorporate the Ecological Footprint into its national plan. In the 1960s Ecuador had four times as much biocapacity as it used. Now it is facing the onset of an ecological deficit. National leaders in Ecuador, seeing their “wells” being drawn down, recognized this as a threat to their long-term economic security and decided to make reversing the trend a national priority. (Read more)
Running an ecological deficit has been easy over the past few decades in part because the costs of carbon emissions have generally been ignored, along with low commodity and energy prices and relatively high purchasing power.
But what if that changes? What will the future of tourism look like as a consequence of collapsing coral reefs in the Caribbean or declining fish stocks along the Gulf of Mexico coast? What if carbon emissions are priced? What will nations do once staple fish species decline, migrate, or disappear altogether? How will citizens of nations react as they see the price of basic commodities increase or supply is disrupted?
It is promising that more national leaders are awakening to the reality that without taking a clear-eyed assessment of growing resource use and constraints, a country’s long-term stability, let alone prosperity, remains precarious. At the same time, there is a growing realization that traditional measures of economic wealth (such as GDP or credit worthiness) don’t take into account ecological wealth, and as such are insufficient. (See the Greater Mekong Region project in Footprint Briefs and the launch of the E-RISC report at Bloomberg under Upcoming Events)
Every country is in a unique situation, but the trend across the board is increasing medium- and long-term national risk because of exposure to resource constraints. We’re encouraged that more nations and institutions are engaging with Global Footprint Network. Forward-looking governmental and financial leaders are investing in the stability of their own nations by adopting ecological accounting and moving towards its integration in decision-making—so we may keep our wells recharged.
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