Sputnik discussed the increased pace of natural resources use with Mathis Wackernagel, Founder and CEO of the Global Footprint Network.
Sputnik: What has prompted this increased pace of natural resources use?
Mathis Wackernagel: It’s a multiplication of everything. You know most people know about GDP, the gross domestic product, that calculates all the money, we do the same thing, just for all the resource demands on the planet. In physical terms, we add up all the beans and sheep, and milk and everything, and CO2 emissions and overall, because there is still a growing population. It’s not growing as fast any more as years back, but it’s still growing at quite a staggering peace, and then also energy consumption is going up in a number of places around the world, so overall demand is still slightly going up.
Sputnik: What are the potential implications for all this for both nature and human lives then?
Mathis Wackernagel: That’s where opinions diverge. We basically see the world like it’s a big farm, where every country is a big farm, so if you use more than what you have, you can do that for some time, like with money, by depleting your assets, that’s what we're doing. So while you do it, it’s kind of ok, but in the long run, it becomes a risk. It’s like we’re getting weaker and weaker because we're depleting our asset base, and the question really is — a country like Switzerland, for example, where I'm from, or the UK, both use about four times more than what their own ecosystems can renew, so the question is — is that an economic risk or not? We believe resource security is a key factor for long-term economic success.
Mathis Wackernagel: We should never be worried, worrying doesn’t help, we should act. How quickly does it act? If we look at just one big component that is quite significant, CO2 emissions, if you want to keep the world (temperatures from rising) under 2°C (this century), as stated in the Paris Agreement (on climate change), humanity should be out of using fossil fuels way before 2050, that's just looking at the numbers and adding them up. That means if you continue to invest in aspects of our economy which are very resource dependent, particularly fossil fuel dependent, these are assets that may just not do as well economically, so there’s a very strong correlation between economic success and thinking about resource security. So as we shift our investment and say let’s invest in things that help us to live efficiently, like efficient housing, wind power, solar power etc., things that make us more resource secure, they overall will make us stronger, these are assets that will be performing better in the long run on average.
Sputnik: How much longer can humankind employ the resources of our planet? What happens when we run out of them? And what alternatives do we have?
Mathis Wackernagel: I recently watched a very interesting tech.com video from the Prime Minister of Bhutan who was talking about the fact that country's a carbon sink, obviously with its natural resources and the amount of forestry dragging the carbon dioxide out of the system, and I think Bhutan is only one country out of only a small number of countries within the world where there's a carbon sink.
Sputnik: Are we as a global society, audience, able to change the way things are happening by becoming more like a global sink? Are countries more able to transfer strategy and incorporate things that maybe in 50-100 years are going to change the way that we're doing things? Are we a long way off from being like Bhutan, that has so much of a positive affect in terms of the global environment?
Mathis Wackernagel: Of course we're able. Like with money, we can choose not to look at our accounts and just go into bankruptcy, or we can manage with our financial resources more wisely, the same thing we can do with our resources. The fact though is that currently humanity uses about 70% more than what Earth can renew, that’s why on August 1 it is Earth Overshoot Day, that means between January 1st and August 1st humanity has used as much as Earth can renew in the entire year. You can calculate yourself for your own overshoot day, if everybody lived like you when would we have overshoot day, just got to footprintcalculator.org and calculate your own one, but yes, it’s totally possible, that’s why we call it move the date. If we move the date in the future for five days every year, which is not that hard, we could be back to one planet way before 2050. We just did some calculation with a company called Schneider Electric that works with electricity and electric efficiency, just looking at technologies of the shelf, just for buildings and for improving the electric rate we can move the date 21 days. If we cut CO2 emissions by half we would move to move the date 93 days in to the future, three months, so it’s very possible, it takes effort, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.