Global Footprint Network Claims We're "Eating the Planet"

According to the Global Footprint Network, humanity started “eating the planet” on October 9th of this year. Some background is in order. The Global Footprint Network’s stated mission is,

“To support a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a measurement and management tool that makes the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers throughout the world.”

What these researchers do is estimate the amount of resources the planet will generate in one full year, then compare that to the speed with which human civilization will consume these resources. And according to their findings, the renewable resources that our planet generated during the entire 12 months of 2006 were used up by humanity by October 9th.

The subjectivity of the assumptions underlying this assessment is certainly not in limited supply!

Why not consider the solar energy hitting the planet? Isn’t that something we’re always thinking about? In our own little study “How Much Solar Energy Hits the Earth” we calculate that in one year over 8.2 million quadrillion BTUs of solar energy hits the earth. Since the entire human race only consumes about 400 quadrillion BTUs of energy per year from all sources, we would have to increase our energy consumption by a factor of 20,000 before we could begin to “eat the earth.”

So what assumptions are these people making? They certainly aren’t anticipating the advances in technology that have confounded the malthusian naysayers of countless prior generations.

Do they consider that the world’s population is now predicted to level off at around 8.0 billion within 30 years, the lowest projection yet? Do they consider that next generation photovoltaic arrays will provide cheap abundant energy to everyone in the world within that same period of time? Do they consider that with such abundant energy even desalinization of seawater is cost effective? Have they seen the promise of electric cars that don’t pollute at all?

The global warming alarmists – such as the group “” are also not thinking about these game changing and positive trends. Both the “eating the planet” malthusians and the global warming doomsayers should think carefully about the consequences of the alarm they spread. Should we deforest the planet to grow “carbon neutral” biofuel (also known as “deforestation diesel”), when deforestation could be more likely to warm the planet than the carbon?

There are obvious environmental challenges and examples of unsustainable practices. Our practice of strip mining the oceans for seafood is a perfect example. But while thoughtfully attempting to reform these practices, we shouldn’t forget that overall, technology has brought us to the brink of global prosperity and sustainability.

One Response to “Global Footprint Network Claims We're "Eating the Planet"”
  1. Susan Burns says:

    I’d like to clarify for your readers what the Ecological Footprint measures and does not measure. Footprint assessments are historical rather than predictive, and make no judgment about the value of technologies that may become available in the future. It’s true that there are positive advances in technology and hopeful demographic trends. As new technologies and trends come online, their impact on resource supply and demand are reflected in our biocapacity and Footprint assessments. In other words, the Footprint and biocapacity results reported in any given year are a function of the technology used in that year. Yes, the amount of solar energy hitting the earth is enormous. When humanity harnesses this energy and uses it to replace fossil fuels, this will be reflected in our accounts.

    You can also use the Footpirnt to evalute the effects of biofuels and related deforestation. And, as you point out, these are important issues that need to be considered.

    Susan Burns
    Global Footprint Network


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