Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Our Global Debt

This is not a financial article, but it could be. The parallels are famously congruent, as Thomas Friedman has emphasized repeatedly. The United States, in its aggregate, owes an immense debt to the developing countries of the world. Using the balance of measure of the ecological capacity calculation, the US has a footprint of over 150% of biocapacity. According to the Global Footprint Network, "This ecological debt is not equally spread. The report shows that over three quarters of the world’s population “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.”

"The Ecological Footprint has emerged as the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. It measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology."

The global consumption footprint now exceeds the capacity of the planetary resources by 50% and is headed towards 100%. Clearly, this is not sustainable and will have disastrous impacts upon the global systems that currently support life. Much of this is due to population growth and the concurrent industrial revolution that managed to magnify the resource demands while creating toxic pollution, first with coal power and then moving onward to manufacturing and oil-based industries that dumped pollution into the land, air and water that is now breaking down natural processes. In addition, there's the toxicity of building over and suffocating much of the natural landscape and forests that provided the "ballast" against this destructive activity for several hundred years even after being diminished by thousands of years of human habitation.

This doesn't even begin to address the climate change that is increasing the volatility of weather, inflicting flood and drought throughout the globe, eroding the stability of existing resources. We're in a very dangerous vise right now, of our own making, and unless we pull together as nations and people and devise constructive ecological strategies through technology and communication, I don't see a positive outcome to this. The laws of physics and systems will kick in, and we all know what happens when human societies fight over a shrinking pie.

The clear solution is a very, very rapid response to correct these issues of carbon production (energy sources), pollution and trash production resulting from inefficient processes which dump toxins in the middle of what should be a complete cycle of deconstruction and reuse. Some of these strategies are beginning to emerge, for example, as the 2030 Challenge, exemplified in the ICC Code, to achieve zero carbon in construction in 2030, in the building sector - which consumes more energy than any other sector.

This strategy runs in concert with reduction of the physical human footprint with highly efficient structures and a restoration of natural habitats and biodiversity. It means that human societies will have to do more with much, much less. It means we will have to decide what "profit" really is, and demand actual real value for whatever it is we do to come back into balance with the natural world that provides us with life.

I hope we have the will to do what has to be done, before systems start collapsing around us.