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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 9:54 EDT

Reckless Consumption Depleting Earth’s Natural Resources

October 29, 2008

The conservation group WWF said on Wednesday that the Earth’s natural resources are being depleted so quickly that “two planets” would be required to sustain current lifestyles within a generation.

The document warns that our demands on natural resources overreach what the Earth can sustain by nearly a third.

“Reckless consumption of natural capital is endangering the world’s future prosperity, with clear economic impacts including high costs for food, water and energy,” the report said.

“If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles,” said WWF International Director-General James Leape.

The dramatic ecological losses from pollution, deforestation, over-fishing and land conversion were having serious impacts, said Jonathan Loh of the Zoological Society of London.

“We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically — seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences,” Loh said in a statement accompanying the report.

He said the consequences of a global ecological crisis are even graver than the current economic meltdown.

“While the media headlines continue to be dominated by the economic turmoil, the world is hurtling further into an ecological credit crunch,” said Dr. Dan Barlow, head of policy at the conservation group’s Scotland arm.

The world’s global environmental “footprint” or depletion rate now exceeds the planet’s capacity to regenerate by 30 percent. The countries with the biggest impact on the planet are the US and China, together accounting for some 40% of the global footprint.

The five countries with the largest footprints per person are the United States and Australia along with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Denmark.

The lowest five are Bangladesh, Congo, Haiti, Afghanistan and Malawi, WWF said. Regionally, only non-EU Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean remain within their “biocapacity.”

The WWF cited emissions from fossil fuels — which would be targeted under a successor to the Kyoto climate change accord — among the top culprits for the big demands on the planet.

World leaders need to put ecological concerns at the top of their agenda and ensure the environment is factored into all decisions about consumption, development, trade, agriculture and fisheries management, warned Leape.

“If humanity has the will, it has the ways to live within the means of the planet, but we must recognize that the ecological credit crunch will require even bolder action than that now being mustered for the financial crisis,” Leape said.

The WWF’s international president, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said the events in the last few months have served to show us how it’s foolish in the extreme to live beyond our means.

“Devastating though the financial credit crunch has been, it’s nothing as compared to the ecological recession that we are facing.”

The Living Planet Report is the work of WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network.

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