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The Other, Bigger Growing Deficit

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has released Living Planet Report 2004—the current edition of an annual index that tracks global species abundance and human use of natural resources. This edition concludes that people are consuming the earth’s natural resources 20% faster than nature can renew them.

We are spending nature’s capital much faster than it can be regenerated. Collectively, we are bequeathing to our children the most dangerous budget deficit of all, an ecological debt of growing proportions.

—Richard Mott, WWF Vice President for International Policy

Energy consumption, particularly in the U.S. but also in western Europe, accounts for much of the imbalance. The energy component of the footprint, dominated by use of non-renewable fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, increased nearly 700% in the 40-year period surveyed, from 1961 to 2001. The image below is from the report, and maps the global distribution of energy intensity. (Click to enlarge.)


Note also the intensity of China and, to a lesser extent, India.

The report makes a number of recommendations for balancing the ecological budget before it is too late, including:

  • Switching to renewable and non-polluting alternative energies to reduce global warming

  • Encouraging more public transportation

  • Creating more comprehensive recycling and waste reduction programs

  • Implementing building and product design innovations that can lead to much greater energy efficiencies than at present

You can download the full report from the link at top.



"dominated by use of non-renewable fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas"

Why do you think they're "non-renewable"? When did the earth stop producing fossils?

Cheers, Joe

Kevin Krejci

Joe, good point, to a point. As you say, fossils ARE renewable, but it will be us humans that will become the fossils, and fossils don't turn into fuel overnight. We have a big wireless battery in the sky. Maybe we should be tapping into it a bit more in the meantime...


Oh, it does... over a time scale of millions of years.


Fascinating. I wonder what people will do once we run out of fossil fuels (we use them much faster than they are made in nature). Maybe we will all squat around rubbish fires like in some futuristic movies.

Maybe we will build buildings out of all these cars that we have driving around today and then people will be forced to take the bus haha!

I think the best idea is for local communities (maybe some countries) to become self sufficient, that way we won't be completely ****ed when the pipes run dry in maybe 30 years??
I live in a place where we don't import fossil fuels for energy. Standards of living will probably decrease dramatically in cities such as new york when fossil fuels run out.

wayne stedman

This fine map reminds me of those that are periodically released showing the lighting of the planet. When i was a kid growing up in Arizona in the fifties, you could drive outside of Yuma without headlight, so bright was our starlight. Gone. I notice that the whole Yuma Tucson Phoenix area is a black blob on your map. This is called progress. Re resources, the word right now is exponential. Would leapfrogging or double doubling perhaps get more attention while there might still be time to turn it around? I just do not know. Cheers.


The point everyone is overlooking is that we are breeding like rats . I believe all the unrest we see in the world , especially like the middle east , is because there are too many people . The terrorist are terrorists because they don't have jobs . They don't have jobs because there's too many people . Idle hands , I believe is the phrase , make mischief . Poor disenfranchised people want the good life , or what they perceive as the good live , as having material things. This is nothing new in the history of mankind , except our exploding population.
There are only three ways to keep our population in check , birth control , plague , or world war three . Doesn't sound too promising doesn't ? Keep your pants on .


In the areas of energy and transportation the Western World needs to recognize the laws of physics when moving people. A Segway with a range of 12-15 miles can be fully charged 2-4 times per day from a single 110 watt solar panel. Electric assist bicycles are another good alternative.
Community lifestyles can be constructed where we live closer to our work so that many more of us can walk, bicycle or 'glide' to work. Job searches could include criteria for employment such as whether it's close to where we live. There are endless ways that we can reduce the great excesses of waste in this current style of Western living.
Sustainable futures are possible. But it they are personal choices that we either decide are worthwhile or we reject them as being too inconvenient. It is a question of whether we will give up enough of our conveniences, either volantarily or through regulation, to make the difference.

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