Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

911a560446f86f380e62d227_pa2852c.jpg

Earth is Enough

According to conventional wisdom, we are voraciously using the world’s resources and living way beyond Earth’s means – a narrative of decline and pessimism that underlies much of today’s environmental discourse. But this received wisdom is fundamentally wrong.

COPENHAGEN – According to conventional wisdom, we are voraciously using the world’s resources and living way beyond Earth’s means. This narrative of decline and pessimism underlies much of today’s environmental discourse, and is often formulated in a simple fashion: by 2030, we will need two planets to sustain us, owing to higher living standards and population growth. If everyone managed to live at American living standards today, we would need almost five planets. But this received wisdom is fundamentally wrong.

Environmental campaigners use the so-called “ecological footprint” – how much area each one of us requires from the planet – to make their point. We obviously use cropland, grazing land, forests, and fishing grounds to produce our food, fiber, and timber, and we need space for our houses, roads, and cities. Moreover, we require areas to absorb the waste emitted by our energy use. Translating all these demands into a common unit of physical area gives us an opportunity to compare it with Earth’s productive area – and thus to get a sense of how sustainable we are.

For more than a decade, the World Wildlife Fund and several other conservation organizations have performed complicated calculations to determine individual “footprints” on the planet. Their numbers show that each American uses 9.4 hectares of the globe, each European 4.7 hectares, and those in low-income countries just one hectare. Adding it all up, we collectively use 17.5 billion hectares.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/vAAktLR;
  1. bildt71_HOW HWEE YOUNGAFP via Getty Images_vonderleyenchinaarmy How Hwee Young/AFP via Getty Images

    Which Way for Europe on China?

    Carl Bildt

    Under its new leadership, the European Union has promised to step up its engagement on the world stage to ensure that it does not become a pawn in an escalating Sino-American great-power rivalry. To succeed, it will have to strike a careful balance between economic priorities and its own security.

    7
  2. wei22_FABRICE COFFRINIAFP via Getty Images_WTOredlight Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

    How to Revive the WTO

    Shang-Jin Wei & Xinding Yu

    The World Trade Organization’s appellate body is under threat not from China, but from the United States, which is blocking the appointment of new judges to the panel. Reviving the WTO will require changes to the organization's rules – but killing its dispute-settlement system is not the solution.

    1