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There's No Bailing Out Nature

Mathis Wackernagel of the Global Footprint Network had an important (and scary) piece in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day that one hopes the new administration and the new Congress will take note of.

Using data from the United Nations and elsewhere, Wackernagel reports that we’ve been overdrawing nature ever since about 1970. That is, humans take more from nature—wood, water, marine life, soil, and on and on—than can be replaced year by year, so the deficit is accelerating.

He figures that it now takes the planet 1.4 years to regenerate the resources humans use in one year. This leads to climate change, collapsing fisheries (crab season opened here the other day, and the first day's catch was miniscule), soil depletion, air pollution, and water shortages among other horrors.

One figure to hold in mind: As of 1997, a University of Vermont professor calculated that the free services we get from nature total around $33 trillion annually, nearly twice the $18 trilllion generated by the human global economy. It's this provenance that we're overdrawing so badly. In fact, the Network calculates that we'll need two earths by 2035 or so to keep us going unless we change our ways drastically. Where the second one will come from is unknown.

The point of all this is that our leaders must take this trend into account—confront it head on, that is—as they plan for economic recovery or all their efforts will be in vain.

Tags:  science

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