Our impact on the earth can be represented by the equation I = P x A x T
Impact (our footprint) = Population (size) x Affluence (wellfare) x Technology.
A valid quantification of our "impact" or "footprint" is difficult and debatable, but our increasing impact can be observed by the quantifiable decrease of resources.
"Sustainability" is a state of balance between resource use and the regenerative capacity of the earth. Our lifestyles are "sustainable" when we use no more resources than nature can replenish and if we produce no more wastes than nature can deal with.
"Overshoot" is a situation where resource consumption and waste production is higher than the earth's carrying capacity. Overshoot is only possible because we deplete resource stocks that the earth has accumulated in the past at vastly different environmental conditions.
"Carrying capacity" is the number of people with a certain "footprint" that the earth can support for a long time, say hundreds of thousands of years. Humans with our shape and intelligence have lived more or less sustainably for some 100,000 to 200,000 years (4,000 to 8,000 generations). Overshoot started with the advent of agriculture and began to increase at the onset of our industrial age around 1750. Dramatic increase in overshoot started in the 20th century, especially after 1950.
"Technology" cannot increase the earth's carrying capacity. On the contrary. It may on first sight reduce pollution and reduce resource use in some areas of life. But ultimately it increases resource consumption since technology uses resources itself. One dangerous and delusive technology is "genetic engineering". Proponents claim GE is needed to feed future populations but forgets that increased crop outputs require increased inputs. Another GMO illusion is the expection that GE could increase crop sizes as populations grow.
"Economic Growth" is economic expansion, i.e. the increase in production and consumption, normally accounted in Gross Domestic Product growth over one year. The GDP is the total monetary value of all economic activity, i.e. agriculture, manufacturing, so-called services (which include such very resource-intensive activities as transportation). The GDP does not distinguish between goods and "bads", i.e. work to repair accidents or outright harmful activities.
So-called "sustainable growth", "immaterial growth", "different growth", "decoupled growth" are theoretical fiction, designed to maintain the growth paradigm that is cherished by most opinion leaders.
"Resource Efficiency" means the lowest possible use of resources (materials) for a given product or service. Increasing a sub-optimal resource efficiency means using less material and this will lead to a short-term reduction of GDP. The savings are normally being used elsewhere and the resource use rebounds to previous levels.
"Development" is - for all practical purposes - an increase in the standard of living people enjoy. Development always entails an increase in resource use and waste production. "Sustainable Development" is therefore not possible. It is a misnomer which disguises the fact that development increases our human footprint.
"Population Growth" is the surplus between births and deaths in one year, presently approx. 75 million people a year. Provided all other conditions stay equal, the global population is expected to rise from 6.7 billion in 2008 to approx. 8.5 to 9.0 billion by 2050.
Climate Change is a result of overshoot. Economic growth increases greenhouse gas emissions. The argument that mitigating climate change would only marginally reduce economic growth is doubly mistaken. Money and investment cannot deal with floods and droughts and landslides. And it fails to understand that growth actually increases the problem. Reducing the climate change problem to energy questions does not recognise the general resource and overshoot picture.
"Energy" is the resource we need to live and to work. We gain our energy from food, which is produced by natural processes. Stone age people took approx. one Human Energy Equivalent from nature, additional to food energy. Since there were few people, nature could easily regenerate.
"Fossil Energy" is the sun's energy that nature has accumulated over hundreds of millions of years, when there were no humans around. The exploitation of fossil energy, especially in modern time, has allowed humanity to grow in numbers and in per capita resource consumption to our present overshoot situation.
"Peak Energy" is the maximum extraction rates from fossil energy stocks, It is expected to happen any time time. After that, the reduced fossil energy flows will lead to reduced industrial and agricultural production, and reduced mobility and transportation of goods. We will have to demechanise and relocalise and use the remaining Oil very wisely for those societal tasks and products that have oil as a non-replaceable resource base.
A "Crisis" is a dangerous maximum, that can last a short instance or a number of years. After the crisis the situation can get either better, or so bad that collaps or death follows.
The "Energy Crisis" is a perceived shortage of fossil energy. The real energy crisis lies in the fact that temporarily abundant fossil energy availabilities have led to the present situation of exorbitant resource use, polltion, destruction of nature and overpopulation.
Hope and Optimism are good when they serve to keep us motivated. They are deadly sins when they prevent people from using the the means we have and instead make them wait for yet-to-be-invented-or-developed future technology.
"Cristalline Intelligence" is a thought pattern that has become rigid because of socio-economic conditioning. As a result it fails or denies to recognise factual scientifc findings that are in conflict with beliefs, hopes, or paradigms.
"Environmentalism" is an attitude and/or activity that is meant ot have a positive result for humanity and to reduce the threat of te demasie of mankind. An analysis of the goals and methods of many well-meaning people and organisation leads to serious doubts on their effectiveness. UmverkehR, for instance, wants to reduce overshoot by promoting public transport but the net result appears being an overall increase i traffic and resource use. Movements like UNEP, WWF, Ecological Footprint Network, or The Global Marshall Plan are arguably counterproductive to achieving a state of sustainability. In separate pages, we'll try ot explain the whys and hows. is r and a thought pattern that hs become rigid because of socio-economic conditioning and as a result fails or denies to recognise factual scientifc findings that are in conflict with beliefs, hopes, or paradigms.
The more we produce and consume, the heavier we are. Our footprint becomes deeper and more visible. More people require more food, water, clothes, housing, roads, space - more of everything.
Higher standards of living, more luxury has the same effect. More renewable and non-renewable resources, i.e. food, fish, water, forest, etc. is appropriated for human consumption. The total stock being finite and unchangeable, less space and food and resources are left for other animals, birds, fish, insect, i.e. for all living beings that make up the so-called web of life, that is "nature". The balance is changed by human expansion, that is growing economic activity and population size, as well as the level of technology that we use. This is generally expressed in the equation
This is the Environmental Resource Use Impact of humanity. The ERUI comprises all resources used and depleted, renewable and non-renewable, as well as pollution including greenhouse gas emissions. We know of no quantititave figure that would express the total Impact we have. But we know the relative depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources, the speed of further depletion and the estimated time left for total depletion at a given rate of resoure consumption. Our Environmental Resource Use Footprint is not directly quantifiable. But by observation of the impacts we have in many areas of nature we know that we are using too much. We are living in an "Overshoot" situation. We are in fact consuming resource stocks that nature has accumulated over hundreds of millions of years avery long time ago. We are living off non-renewable natural capital such as minerals, ground water streams, forests, fertile soils, fossil fuels and nuclear power. This is the basis for our present population size and standard of living. Once these temporary, and seemingly abundant stocks get scarcer, we will be forced to reduce human numbers and per capita (luxury) consumption.
Standard economic practice is to count the resources we take from nature as "income", aalthough we factually consme our capital. The gross Domestic Product also does not distinguish between economic activity that has a positive result for our lives and those activities that are costs only, like transportation and money spent on repairs after accidents.
One particular model, the Ecological Footprint, is being promoted as a quantitative account of our biological resource use and a method to reduce our footprint. We believe this Ecological Footprint creates a certain confusion and we therefore made the following anaysis, based upon their 2008 brocchure "Ecological Footprint Accouting - Building a Winning Hand".
BasicsA footprint has a size and a weight. Together they determine the impact on the area that supports the footprint. The footprint represents the consumption of resources per year.
Renewable resources are products made of plant and animal material, water, etc.. They are regenerated by the interactive functioning of nature, that is the balances of living beings and non-living material on Earth.
Non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, uranium, metals and minerals, are finite stocks, that are not renewed by nature.
Our human footprint consists of our annual consumption of renewables and non-renewables.
If our consumption of renewables is higher than their rate of regeneration, we will run out of food and fibre.
If our depletion rate of non-renewables is low in comparison to the available stocks, we can carry on for a relatively long period of time.
Sustainability refers to a level of human resource consumption that can be maintained for a very long time, theoretically forever. If our human footprint is too high it can not be sustained by the Earth for a long time.
Presently, our human footprint is too high, in almaost all sectors of resource consumption. It is not sure, however, in which sector the depletion will first reach the critical point that may lead to a collapse of the human socio-economic structures. It could be lack of food, clean water, an illness, toxification and pollution, lack of fossil energy or something else.
Climate change and its effects are a result of air pollution by greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide, methane, CFCs and water vapour). Climate change is under way and not stoppable. Carbon dioxide cannot be sequestered by human efforts, nor by nature within human time scales. (The Kyoto protocoll will not help since its mechanisms are technically not workable and its goals are far below the level that is required.)
What is our human time scale?
How sustainable are our socio-economic ways of living? How long can we carry on "business as usual"?