Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tipover Point

In a pleasant conversation on sustainability economics, the question came up -- is there a tip-over point we should be watching for?  Good question.  😏
  • Is there a critical threshold ...
    • For population?
    • For arable land use?
    • For fresh water consumption?  
Well, yes. And we've perhaps passed each of those thresholds already.

Humanity’s demand for goods and services exceeds the resources our ecosystems can continue to provide. We first exceeded this limit in 1970 when population was just over half of what it is now.

Our ecological footprint is a measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns, including the land required to provide the resources people use (most importantly food and forest products), the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area required to absorb CO2 emissions. The measure also takes imports into account, so that the negative environmental impact of products is considered where these are consumed rather than where they are produced. 

Reasonable estimates suggest that each person can sustainably use 1.8 global hectares for a one-planet life.  Today though, we extract resources faster than they are regenerated. At the current levels of population, consumption, and waste, humankind needs about 1.6 Earth-like planets to sustain everyone's lifestyle.  Any improvements we attempt become progressively more difficult as quality of life issues compete for resources.

High-consumption countries have become examples of wealth out of balance – they do well on life expectancy and well-being, perhaps, but they maintain their lifestyle with an unsustainable ecological footprint, larger per capita than other countries in the world. It would require perhaps five Earth-like planets to sustain this way of life if everyone lived at their high-consumption level.  Lifestyle comes at a cost. 

How soon will this be visibly intrusive in the marketplace, in international relations, in our quality of life?  We're well past that threshold as well.

Did you know that China is buying huge swaths of land in Africa for farming? And in the U.S. and France. Saudi Arabia owns and farms large areas in California and Arizona because it's cheaper to use U.S. water reserves than their own.  Australia recently blocked China from buying a farm the size of Kentucky.  Food is expected to replace oil as the marketplace centerpiece for the 21st century.

As for the developing nations, what room is left for their improvement in quality of life?  Do your own inquiry.  This is one of perhaps several issues our children and grandchildren will view differently than we do today.

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