Elysium: Ruined Los Angeles

We exceeded sustainable biomass in 1986. Now what?

I have blogged about this in the past with mentions back to a report I read in the mid-80s from the WHO. Despite trying to track this down (for my own sake more than anything), it’s very clear that we are beyond this point. In fact, this year’s Living Planet Report from the WWF states:

Our global footprint now exceeds the world’s capacity to regenerate by about 30 per cent.

Which means we have categorically passed the tipping point of sustainable biomass – if you look at Figure 2 in the introduction to the report you will see a graph (reproduced above) which shows the point which we passed the sustainable biomass tipping point was in fact approx 1986. (Refer also to “It’s not about Polar Bears anymore” next month for more discussion about ecological tipping points and possible consequences).

From the foreword to the Living Planet Report:

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.

The ecological credit crunch is a global challenge. The Living Planet Report 2008 tells us that more than three quarters of the world’s people live in nations that are ecological debtors – their national consumption has outstripped their country’s biocapacity. Thus, most of us are propping up our current lifestyles, and our economic growth, by drawing (and increasingly overdrawing) upon the ecological capital of other parts of the world.

If our demands on the planet continue at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles. And this year’s report captures, for the first time, the impact of our consumption on the Earth’s water resources and our vulnerability to water scarcity in many areas.

But, we have only one planet.

The good news is that we have the means to reverse the ecological credit crunch – it is not too late to prevent an irreversible ecological recession setting in. This report identifies the key areas where we need to transform our lifestyles and economies to put us on a more sustainable trajectory.

For more information and to download a copy of the full report, please visit the WWF Living Planet Report (or our local copy here as the report seems to keep moving). It’s a report we should all read – if only the introduction.

One interesting tidbit of the report is that, although the trend is down for pretty much everywhere, the Living Planet Index for the Palearctic biogeographic realm (i.e. Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, much of China, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, North Africa) is still positive although now declining. Much of the data comes from Western Europe, so it is mooted that “the positive trend for the Palearctic realm since 1970 may, in part, reflect conservation successes resulting from habitat protection, reduction of pollution or other environmental improvements.” Maybe there is something the Europeans are doing that the rest of the World could benefit from?

So, we’re 22 years on from what may be the tipping point of all tipping points and while there has been a growth in investment into cleantech since 2005 we will still have many years of fallout from the actions of previous generations to contend with. And our future generations will have to contend with our actions today.