The planet’s ecological capital is depleting faster and faster. This year, on July 28, humanity will have used all the natural resources available for all of 2023. This means that we use the equivalent of almost 1.8 times the planet Earth, that we are exhausting its potential and we have no other. With this we directly destroy the foundations of our economies and the well-being of our societies. The setting is terrifying. It is necessary to quickly change the current economic approach. These are reflections of the scientific director of the Global Foodprint Network, Alessandro Galli, PhD in Chemical Sciences from the University of Siena (Italy), who has contributed to developing the ecological footprint methodology and publications, and who has consolidated an accounting system environment that is being used globally today.
The interview with Dr. Galli, carried out by the journalist Albert Gimeno, and which was broadcast live via streaming from the website of this newspaper on December 15, is part of the Science and SOS–tenability conference cycle. This cycle, which began in 2020, has made it possible to learn about the reflections, activities and experiences of world leaders in environmental activism.
The Day of the Ecological Debt of the Earth of
this year it has been calculated for next July 28
Global Foot Print Network is best known for defining Earth Ecological Debt Day. “The Day of the Ecological Debt of the Earth – says Galli – is that day the year in which we, the human beings, have already finished with the available natural resources of the year. That is the day when we have already used all the ecological capital of our planet and we begin to use the assets that are available for the following year”.
Why is this information so important and what exactly does it mean? “To start this day, which this year is July 28 – explains Alessandro Galli – is our alarm call to society, politicians and all citizens,
to highlight that there is something wrong with our relationship with the planet. What it tells us is that the rules of the game have changed. We have gone from a world that many would define as an empty world, full of resources and poor in human capital, to a situation that could be defined as an economy of a full world. A world in which the biosphere and the resources that the planet can offer for our use have become the limiting factor”.
The accelerated consumption of natural resources forces us to review the relationship of man with the planet
In the last 57 years that the Global Foot Print Network has analyzed, humanity has increased the amount of resources that it could extract from the planet. But at the same time the demand for these resources, that is, the human ecological footprint, has increased much faster. “We have accumulated throughout this period – says Galli – a debt with our planet. While in the 1970s we used approximately 70% of the natural capital available to us each year, today we use the equivalent of almost 1.8 planets each year. In other words, the Earth would need twenty months to regenerate and produce what we humans consume in twelve months. Obviously we don’t have another planet to make up for that deficit.”
Every year we consume more food and fiber and for that, we appropriate pastures, farmland and fishing grounds. We also use paper, wood for our goods and services, and appropriate more of the forests. We also occupy and pave surfaces for our cities and our infrastructures and, above all, in addition, in our daily activities we use greater amounts of fossil fuels to generate more energy and electricity. With all of this, we create a demand that is greater than the capacity of the planet to sequester the CO2 that we generate.
From traditional cost benefit analysis
we must evolve towards co-benefit
The truth, according to Galli, is that we have already entered a dangerous vicious circle because our economic activities contribute to the degradation of our environment. But, at the same time, by degrading the environment we are directly destroying the foundations of our economies and the well-being of our societies. “And this story is unfortunately terrifying and quite simple,” he says.
Global Foot Print Network carries out its analysis of the ecological strike by country and for all countries in the world. In 1961, most of the countries were characterized by having reserves of resources and ecological services, since they consumed less than they had available. However, according to Galli’s complaint, in less than a lifetime we have reached a situation in which most of the world’s population lives in areas of the planet where there is already an ecological deficit.
The economic obsession with growth
no longer guarantees greater well-being
Galli explains the results they have obtained on Spain. When biocapacity is analyzed, understanding as such the availability of resources per capita, it can be seen that it has not changed in the last six decades. It has been maintained at 1.2 hectares per person. But during the same period, the average demand for a Spaniard has increased a lot, it has almost tripled. It has gone from just over two hectares in the 1960s to almost six hectares per person.
The high increase in Spain’s ecological footprint is explained by the fact that the economic growth experienced by Spain after the Second World War has taken place at the expense of an increase in environmental pressure. The high increase in the ecological footprint in Spain is due, specifically, to the increase in industrialization, the mechanization of consumption profiles and private transport.
Urgent solutions must be adopted to
restore environmental balance
What happened in Spain is comparable to what has also happened in other European countries. Galli explains that the worrying increase in the ecological footprint curve is a consequence of the so-called Great Acceleration phenomenon that occurred after World War II and that has drastically changed the relationship between humans and the planet.
The Great Acceleration, to some extent, is the consequence of an economic obsession with growth, which is what has generated the development of most of our economies. Galli, in this sense, insists that the excessive use of planetary resources threatens the very foundations of our economic activities and our well-being. But Galli’s data and reflections go much further.
“The increase in material production and people’s well-being,” he says, “were in parallel until the 1970s. But from then on these two trends began to diverge and this also coincided with the moment in which we began to have international ecological debt. In other words, we began to consume more resources than were available, as economies grew, but instead the well-being of people stagnated or began to decline. Economic growth, which was once an effective strategy to improve the quality of life, is no longer the best strategy to guarantee people’s well-being”. A well-being whose concept, in addition, should be reviewed, since it is not only equivalent to having more money.
Traditional economic theory, in his opinion, does not recognize the role of ultimate means and ultimate ends, which is a model conceived in the 1970s by the great economist We look the other way. We live on a planet, we only have one planet available and it is changing due to our activity.”
“This recognition – he explains – implies a great social transition. We must give the value it deserves to the natural capital of the planet. And what is most important: we must change our focus when defining policies on what has traditionally been cost-benefit analysis. We always do something at the expense of something and we always have the question of whether to advance economically or protect the environment. Instead you have to embrace a co-benefit approach. In other words, focus on interventions that benefit not only the economy, but also the health of the planet and the well-being of people”.
A report just published by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, in which Galli has participated, defines some of these co-benefit approaches. In addition to the main paradigm shift, he highlights three important intervention points: food, energy and mobility to help make the transition to a sustainable society. “All of this – explains Galli – will be found on the website overshootday.org”.
Only the reduction of food waste, with a more vegetable diet and with the production of meat through regenerative agricultural practices could delay the day of the ecological debt by almost a month. Renewable electricity production, building rehabilitation and carbon pricing would help push it back another three months. And new mobility, such as cycling or car sharing, would add another month. With all this we would reach equilibrium.