Humanity has moved to 'ecological deficit': WWF report
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Mike De Souza , Canwest News Service

OTTAWA - Global demand for energy, water and other natural resources is pushing humanity towards an "ecological credit crunch" with Canadians among the biggest culprits, warns a new international report to be released Wednesday.

The report says humanity is already consuming its resources 30 per cent faster than the planet can replenish them, and it could need the equivalent of two planets by the mid-2030s to maintain existing lifestyles.

"The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means. But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch," said the annual Living Planet Report, published by WWF International - a conservation group based in Switzerland.

"Just as reckless spending is causing recession, reckless consumption is depleting the world's natural capital to a point where we are endangering our future prosperity."

Greater Snow geese fly at the Cap Tourmente Wildlife area at St-Joachim. According to Environment Canada, at the beginning of the last century there was about 3,000 Greater Snow geese left and the population was on the verge on extinction. Therefore, the Canadian Wildlife Service set up the Cap Tourmente Wildlife area in 1969, one of many measures that helped to increase the number of Greater Snow geese to more than 800,000.
Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

The report, produced with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, measured ecological footprints of countries around the world by adding up the sum of all land, resources, forests and water used to produce food and other products consumed, as well as the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions produced from energy consumption.

The United Arab Emirates had the largest ecological footprint, according to the survey, followed closely by the United States, Kuwait, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and then Canada with the seventh largest footprint. Other countries in the Top 10 were Norway, Estonia and Ireland.

Gerald Butts, the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, said Canadians might be surprised to see how high their individual consumption is, compared to other countries.

According to the report, Canada also has the 12th largest water footprint. It estimates the average Canadian consumes more than two million litres of water per year - the equivalent of flushing a toilet 1,000 times per day or keeping a kitchen tap running for more than 10 hours per day.

Although the average numbers include industrial and agricultural production, Butts said individuals can play a significant role in reducing the country's footprint by making changes in their own behaviour and consumption.

"We're at a real reckoning point as a species," said Butts in an interview.

"We've got an opportunity to change things before they get irreversible, but that window is closing."

While the Earth's wildlife populations have declined by a third over the past 35 years, global demand continues to escalate as a result of growth in population and individual consumption, the report said.

It estimates humanity's demands on the planet have more than doubled over the past half-century, forcing many countries to import resources to meet their own needs. In that time, it says the world has moved from an "ecological credit to ecological deficit."

"Once we use these resources, they're gone," said Butts. "Credit markets can be rebuilt, banks can be bailed out, (but) there's no such thing as a post-water economy."

However, Butts said many people are helping shape a more "robust green market place," by demanding more sustainable products, and he said the next steps require a change in energy consumption and a shift toward more renewable forms of energy.

"The human species has a remarkable track record of ingenuity and problem solving," said the report. "The same spirit that took man to the moon must now be harnessed to free future generations from crippling ecological debt."

The full report can be found at: WWF - Local to Global Environmental Conservation