In debt to the Earth, and we can't repay

A A A

Humanity is overdrawn at the Earth's resource bank and is going further into debt every year, according to research.

Humanity is overdrawn at the Earth's resource bank and is going further into debt every year, according to research.

A detailed study by environmental experts shows that we are using more of the Earth's resources than is sustainable and have been doing so since the 1980s.

The international experts calculated that while in 1961 we were using only 70 per cent of the Earth's regenerative capacity, we reached parity by the mid-1970s and by 1999 were using 25 per cent more than could be regenerated. The 1999 figure means the Earth needs 15 months to replenish what humans take out of the biosphere every year. "We haven't reached the point of no return yet," said Valerie Kapos, a senior adviser at UNEP-WCMC, the United Nations' conservation monitoring project. "But we're heading that way and have been ever since we crossed that line [in the 1970s]."

The net effect is that natural resources are wearing out because they cannot be replaced by biological processes. That applies to such essentials as arable land, grazing areas, timber, fish, "infrastructure", and fossil and nuclear fuels.

The only solutions are to use less resources or to find "eco-technologies", which can help restock resources more quickly. "If you look at overfishing, we're having a frightening effect on the world's fisheries," said Dr Kapos. "That's a stark illustration of what this is about."

Although it was not possible to say when the Earth would hit the "point of no return", calculating that would be the group's next target, said Dr Kapos.

Promising technologies to reverse the trend include those to generate renewable energy from biomass or solar power because they do not require fossil fuels, which need land mass to absorb their effects. By far the biggest increase in demand since 1961 has been for energy, which has doubled, while demand for crop land and grazing land has remained almost flat. The researchers, who report their findings today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, include experts from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge.

Economists have long recognised that humanity is getting a "free ride" from the Earth, which provides resources worth trillions of pounds that nobody pays for.

The problem is that humans are not good at replacing what they take.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
i100
Life and Style
gaming
Arts and Entertainment
Carl Barat and Pete Dohrety in an image from the forthcoming Libertines short film
filmsPete Doherty and Carl Barat are busy working on songs for a third album
Arts and Entertainment
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive - Major Sporting Venue

£29500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Engineer - Smart Home / IoT Devices

£32500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Electronic Engineer is requi...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Solicitor - Leicester

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: LEICESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL SOLICITOR- An o...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 1st Line

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support organisation focuses on ...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible