Living Well in a World of 7 Billion

10/31/2011 12:25 AM

Humanity has reached a new milestone as we hit 7 billion. Never before have there been 7 billion people on planet earth, all at the same time. As we welcome the 7th billion global inhabitant, we also acknowledge the challenges we will face due to a burgeoning population explosion, resource depletion, food and water scarcity and overcrowded cities. This is especially true at a time when humanity as a whole is already using the planets regenerative capacity 50 percent faster than it can renew. 

Although humanity’s total demand is unsustainable, this consumption is very unevenly distributed among the 7 billion people. A large portion of humanity does not have enough resources to secure even their most basic subsistence needs. This suffering is intolerable. It affects the rest of humanity, too, most visibly through conflict and instability.

Therefore, Global Footprint Network is mapping how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what. In a crowded, resource constrained world this information helps decision makers understand our present resource situation and find options for avoiding unpleasant consequences.

Our Numbers in Action

Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch uses our numbers to build their argument. They maintain that “[t]he facts about the coming catastrophe are so obvious. Just apply a little grade-school math and economic common sense: Our planet’s natural resources can reasonably support about 5 billion people. That’s a fact. Another: Today we have 7 billion. That’s a problem, 2 billion too many. We’re consuming commodities and natural resources at a rate of 1.5 Earths, according to estimates by the Global Footprint Network of scientists and economists.”

With more people sharing the planet, there is inevitably less planet per person. That’s a simple calculation. By looking at the numbers we can begin to address these issues – to ensure better lives for people in the future. That’s what Global Footprint Network stands for.

The new State of the World Population 2011 Report, the United Nations Fund for Population Assistance  builds on our numbers and concludes that “humanity’s ecological footprint is already large. Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ’ecological overshoot’ with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate in 365 days. It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.”

Consider this

The average Footprint for a country is a function of the resource intensity of the goods and services each person consumes. Reductions in individual consumption, and the resources used or waste emitted in producing goods and services, all result in a smaller Footprint.

Reductions in per person consumption and in the technology factor can be achieved by encouraging highly energy efficient buildings and compact cities where non-car transport options out-compete car use. Other options include cradle-to-cradle industrial approaches, renewable energy production and smart grids. Technological innovations can increase the efficiency of resource use, such as video conferencing instead of travel, meeting communication needs with cellular phones rather than landlines, or replacing paper with energy efficient electronic devices.

There are plenty of non-coercive and effective strategies that reduce and eventually reverse population growth. Slow reductions in population size may generate little resource gains in the very short term, but lead to dramatic cumulative declines in biocapacity deficits in the longer term. Population growth can be discouraged most effectively through voluntary measures such as information about and access to family planning and female education. If well planned, these efforts also lead to significant human wellbeing boons such as increased longevity, higher educational achievements and much reduced violence potentials.

Living within Natures Budget Improves People’s Lives

Addressing overshoot, and with it population size, could not only produce huge improvements in people’s lives, but more importantly, ignoring it would lead to painful human tragedies that would eventually touch every human being. As we welcome the 7th billionth resident, we also invite you to join forces with all those who are eager to build a green economy, where we invest in the self-confidence of women, higher education levels, advancement of green cities, sustainable agriculture, protection of biodiversity and much more. We need all of these efforts combined so people can live great lives within the means of planet earth.

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Business, Footprint for Government, Human Development, Personal Footprint

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