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.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger & Arrears Supervisor

£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are an experienced super...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Web Designer

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss