The 2012 Living Planet Report, released by the conservation agency the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that humanity is outstripping the Earth’s resources by 50 percent – essentially using the resources of one and a half Earths each year.
"We're emptying the fridge, we're not really taking care of the lawn, we're not weeding the flower beds and we're certainly not taking out the garbage," said Colby Loucks, the director of conservation sciences at WWF, comparing humanity’s habits to those of badly behaved houseguests.
The organization’s biannual report aims to call attention to the invisible – and wholly ignored – economy provided by the Earth itself. The cleanup and revitalizing processes that the Earth provides rarely appear on economic balance sheets, but without which life could literally not go on. Because these services are given to us for “free” by the natural cycles of the planet, they are virtually ignored – at our peril.
Conservationists say that the human race is essentially in debt to the planet. As of 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, humans were outstripping Earth's biocapacity by 50 percent.
Biocapacity refers to the inherent processes in renewable resources, such as water purification or waste absorption, and the available land and fresh water for those processes to take place. The report found that it takes the planet 1.5 years to restore what humanity burns through in a year. In other words, the Earth does not recover its full resource capacity from one year to another.
The report includes a list of the nations which are the biggest contributors to biodiversity degradation – those with the largest ecological footprint. The United States is fifth on the list, which is headed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – places where resource use is taken to extremes of conspicuous consumption.
The top 5 greediest consuming nations are as follows:
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
For a full list of the top and bottom resource users, click here.
Resource overconsumption has a direct impact on biodiversity, meaning a major decline in the number of different species of plants, animals and other organisms. As a result of our greedy ways, global species diversity has declined by 30 percent. In some areas, that decline is much steeper. Tropical species have suffered the biggest declines: tropical land species have plummeted 60 percent since the 1970’s and tropical freshwater species have dipped by 70 percent in that time period.
Globally, terrestrial species declined by 25 percent between 1970 and 2008, WWF reports. Marine (non-freshwater) species declined by 20 percent.
Species diversity contributes both aesthetic and economic value. Most indispensable medications, for example, are derived from different species of animals – many of them tropical.
Loucks says global decision-makers need to think long-term. "As we're approaching a planet with 9 billion people on it, we need to find a global solution," he said. "The challenge for us is this is a long-term problem. This is the Earth for millennia. We need to move beyond the election cycle, beyond the quarterly report cycle."