Footprint onto the dashboard!

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Aircrafts without a fuel gauge on their dashboard are dangerous. They are fine for take-off. But once in the air and flying for some time, it is good to know how much is left in the plane’s kerosene tank. Is it enough for reaching our destination, or should we land before?

To my amazement however, the dashboard of our economy has no “fuel gauge.” Although all economic activities depend on resources from nature, policy debates and performance indicators of countries (by the countries and by most international institutions) lack any measure that tell us how much nature a country or a region has and how much their population uses.

For economies, the regenerative capacity of nature – or its biocapacity – is the limiting “fuel”, or as economist say, their limiting “production factor.” Even our use of fossil energy is constrained by biocapacity due to nature’s limited absorptive capacity for its waste: CO2. Fossil fuel is far less limited by its availability under ground, simply because we have found already too much. If all the fossil fuels already found – gas, oil and coal – would be burnt, the carbon concentration in the atmosphere would rise to 1700 ppm. Currently we are at 380 ppm just for CO2, and, over 400 ppm if we also include non-CO2 greenhouse gases. In contrast, climate scientists advise, not to exceed 450 ppm in order not to exceed a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (and many more recent climate models have revised the threshold down to 350ppm). In other words, from a climate perspective, there is no more room for fossil fuel use, and many alternatives to fossil fuel will compete for biocapacity as well, making biocapacity even more of a limiting factor.

France, for example, requires 70 percent times more biocapacity than there is France. Since France is well endowed with biocapacity compared to world average, France’s Footprint – or resource demand per resident – is nearly three times more than there is per capita in the world.

This assessment has been confirmed by over a dozen separate government studies around the world, including the French government, where SOES (Service de l’observation et des statistiques) recalculated the Footprint for France using our method. They were able to replicate our time series for France from 1961 to 2005 within 1-3 percent. (Commissariat général au développement durable, Service de l’observation et des statistiques, Une expertise de l’empreinte écologique, Études & documents n°16, Janvier 2010).

In an age of increasing resource constraints and global overshoot, wanting ever more from the world is becoming a risky strategy. Particularly for countries where the purchasing power per person is decreasing relative to the world. Such as in France.1

Tribune écrite par Mathis Wakernagel et extrait du livre « Vivre ensemble 7 milliards d’humains » rédigé par la rédaction de GoodPlanet et disponible aux éditions de la Martinière. Soutenez-nous en achetant cet ouvrage.

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