Report: Consumption of Earth's resources unsustainable

The Earth. NASA

(CBS News) The Earth's population is depleting our planet's natural resources at a rate faster than what is needed for those resources to be replenished, putting increased pressure on biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund.

The Living Planet Report 2012, a biennial report on the state of the planet, measures the planet's biocapacity - the rate at which natural resources are generated vs. human consumption, and the land area available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions - and finds that humans are overextending their footprint on the planet.

Under the report's measurement unit of global hectares, or gha (one gha represents an average biologically productive hectare of land area needed to sustain human life), in 2008 the Earth's total biocapacity was 12.0 billion gha, or 1.8 gha per person. However, Mankind's Ecological Footprint - what was actually consumed - was 18.2 billion gha, or 2.7 gha per person.

More than half of the Ecological Footprint represents Man's carbon footprint. The remainder is comprised of cropland and grazing land, forests, fishing grounds, and developed land.

The Ecological Footprint of high-income countries is five times that of low-income countries. According to the report the 10 nations with the highest Ecological Footprint are the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium, United States, Estonia, Canada, Australia, Kuwait and Ireland.

"Living Planet" report (WWF)

The report also measures the world's populations of wildlife - 2,688 mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species from regions across the globe - using a variety of methods, from counting individual specimens via tagging and camera trapping, to surveys of nesting sites and monitoring animal movements, and finds a 28 percent global decline in biodiversity health between 1970 and 2008.

The index of species in tropical regions declined by more than 60 percent since 1970, while species in temperate zones increased by 31 percent over the same period.

WWF says biodiversity is experiencing the greatest pressures from the loss of habitat (through agricultural, industrial and urban use, damming, and other changes to river flows); overharvesting of wild species populations; pollution; climate change; and invasive species.

For example, fish - one of the planet's leading sources of protein - have been severely impacted, with a nearly five-fold increase in global catch, from 19 million tons in 1950 to 87 million tons in 2005.

In order to better safeguard the Earth's ability to sustain us, WWF advocates better management of resources and protection of habitat, across the entire system of extraction, production and consumption, through more equitable resource governance; redirecting financial flows to reward conservation, more efficient resource management and innovation; and healthy consumption patterns.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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