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.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To access our archive, please log in or register now and read two articles from our archive every month for free. For unlimited access to our archive, as well as to the unrivaled analysis of PS On Point, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/vAAktLR;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.