By Paul K. Haeder
So hectoring the rock group U2 on its carbon footprint to push almost 400 tons of equipment, 200 support people and themselves around the world – 70,000 miles -- for this 180-day tour is great, funny, and part of the “how can Al Gore lecture us in his Inconvenient Truth spiel when he has a 20,000-square foot home and horse property and then flies around the world giving a turbo-charged Power Point lecture on global warming?” counter-intuitive. At this juncture in global climate change awareness, ecological footprints seem to be the way the world gauges how big of a carbon-fossil fuel impact we have on mother earth through the way we live. Ecological footprinting was started by those in the deep ecology movement, and we now have water footprints and carbon footprints to measure our behavior, as well as socially responsible filtering even for investments. Global Footprint Network is an international think tank working to advance global awareness of sustainability and cutting our consumption patterns.
Mathis Wackernagel and William E. Rees came up with this “appropriated carrying capacity" in the early 1990s. An environment's carrying capacity is its maximum persistently supportable load (Catton 1986).
In 1996, Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Here is a simple illustration of the ecological footprint of a country like the Netherlands:
With an area of 33,920 square kilometers and a human population density of 440/km2, the Netherlands depends on the ecological productivity (carrying capacity) of an area almost 15 times larger than the entire country.
Canada (large area, resource rich, small population) is one of the few developed countries that consumes less than its natural income domestically. However, Canada's natural capital stocks are being depleted by exports of energy, forest, fisheries, agricultural products, etc. In short, Canada's apparent ecological surpluses are being incorporated in part by trade into the ecological footprints -- and deficits -- of other countries, particularly those of the United States and Japan.
Rees talks about the “double-bind of sustainability” clearly in a 15-year-old article:
“Humankind now seems to be the victim of a global "catch-22" of its own making. More material growth, at least in the poor countries, seems essential for socioeconomic sustainability, yet any global increase in material throughput is ecologically unsustainable. What does ecological footprint analysis have to say about this double bind and how we might get out of it? One can draw several conclusions from the above analysis that address one or both sides of the dilemma:
· The wealthy already consume on average three times their fair share of sustainable global output. Since additional material growth in rich countries would appropriate additional carrying capacity further reducing the ecological space available to poor countries, it is both ecologically dangerous and morally questionable. To the extent we can create room for growth, it should be allocated to the third world.
· Confidence in the ability of unregulated trade and technology to overcome ecological limits on material growth cannot be justified. Indeed, it is arguable that under prevailing assumptions, expanding trade and dominant technologies are allowing humanity dangerously to overshoot long-term global carrying capacity.
· Trade has been a major contributor to increasing gross world product in recent years. However: a) trade is one of the mechanisms by which the rich appropriate carrying capacity and increase their own ecological footprints, and b) to the extent that trade increases total human load on the ecosphere and accelerates the depletion of natural capital, it reduces the ecological safety net for all and brings us closer to global limits. Global terms of trade must therefore be reexamined to ensure that it is equitable, socially constructive, and confined to true ecological surpluses. At the very least/ prices must reflect ecological externalities and the benefits of growth from trade should flow to those who need them most (see Rees, 1 994b).
· On a finite planet, ecological trade is a zero-sum game -- there can be no net importation of carrying capacity for the world as a whole. Ecological footprint analysis provides a useful tool for the development of regional ecological (i.e., physical) accounts. These would assist countries tries or (bio-) regions to compute their true ecological loads on the ecosphere and to monitor their ecological/thermodynamic trade balances. Such accounts would also enable the world community to ensure that aggregate global flows do not exceed sustainable natural income (global carrying capacity).
· Urbanization, globalization, and trade all reduce the negative feedback on local populations from unsustainable land and resource management practices. (For example, trade enables us to discount the value of local natural capital and blinds us to the negative consequences of our over-consumption which often accrue in distant export regions.) This provides a further argument to shift the emphasis in development from global economic integration and inter-regional dependency toward intra-regional ecological balance and relative self-reliance. (If all regions were in ecological steady-state the aggregate effect would be global stability.) This position is compatible with Daly's and Goodland's (1993) recommended alternative "default position" on international trade, that we should strive "to reduce rather than increase the entanglement between nations."
· Ecological footprint analysis supports the argument that to be sustainable, economic growth must be much less material and energy intensive than at present (see, for example, Pearce, 1994). It therefore supports the case for ecological tax reform in aid of resource conservation (von Weizsacker, 1994). For example, depletion taxes and marketable quotas on natural capital inputs to the economy would: a) stimulate the search for more materially and energy efficient technologies; b) preempt any resultant cost savings, thereby preventing the economic benefits of efficiency gains from being redirected to additional or alternative forms of consumption, and; c) generate an investment fund that could be used to rehabilitate important forms of self-producing natural capital (Rees, 1 994a).
· Ecological footprint analysis provides a measure of both individual countries' ecological deficits and the global sustainability gap (Box 3). The latter in particular is a measure of the extent to which the human economy must be dematerialized in order to fit within global carrying capacity. The present and related analyses confirm that a "factor-10" reduction in the material and energy intensity per unit of economic service, as suggested by researchers at the Wuppertal Institute in Germany (Schmidt-Bleak, 1993a;b), is a reasonable if daunting goal. ["Reasonable" because a reduction in throughput of this magnitude seems necessary, "daunting" because a reduction of this magnitude through material efficiency alone seems impossible, at least within in the next few decades. Sustainability may require that competitive individualism and the consumer lifestyle give way to cooperative mutualism and an economy of sufficiency.]"
This measurement speaks of complicated economics and accounting methods for how sustainability might work but only with a big shift in mentality, where we become resource-based economies, dumping this false investment model where people speculate on people’s work, lives, resources. We have to have societies building around genuine progress to gauge how we are really fairing using the E – Ecology/Environment as the lead in the 5 E’s of sustainability, with the second E – Equity (social), a close second.
The following shows how sustainability using a different set of filters, values and goals can better gauge a society’s progress. Maybe gauge U2’s real value to the world, to art, to the message of green and equitable economies. Millionaires might not be able to apply.
How We Measure Progress
The Genuine Progress Index starts with the same personal consumption data that the GDP is based on, but then makes some crucial distinctions. It adjusts for factors such as income distribution, adds factors such as the value of household and volunteer work, and subtracts factors such as the costs of crime and pollution.
Because the GDP and the GPI are both measured in monetary terms, they can be compared on the same scale. Measurements that make up the GPI include:
Both economic theory and common sense tell us that the poor benefit more from a given increase in their income than do the rich. Accordingly, the GPI rises when the poor receive a larger percentage of national income, and falls when their share decreases.
Housework, Volunteering, and Higher Education
Much of the most important work in society is done in household and community settings: childcare, home repairs, volunteer work, and so on. The GDP ignores these contributions because no money changes hands. The GPI includes the value of this work figured at the approximate cost of hiring someone to do it. The GPI also takes into account the non-market benefits associated with a more educated population.
Crime imposes large economic costs on individuals and society in the form of legal fees, medical expenses, damage to property, and the like. The GDP treats such expenses as additions to well-being. By contrast, the GPI subtracts the costs arising from crime.
If today’s economic activity depletes the physical resource base available for tomorrow, then it is not creating well-being; rather, it is borrowing it from future generations. The GDP counts such borrowing as current income. The GPI, by contrast, counts the depletion or degradation of wetlands, forests, farmland, and nonrenewable minerals (including oil) as a current cost.
The GDP often counts pollution as a double gain: Once when it is created, and then again when it is cleaned up. By contrast, the GPI subtracts the costs of air and water pollution as measured by actual damage to human health and the environment.
Long-Term Environmental Damage
Climate change, ozone depletion, and nuclear waste management are long-term costs arising from the use of fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons, and atomic energy, respectively. These costs are unaccounted for in ordinary economic indicators. The GPI treats as costs the consumption of certain forms of energy and of ozone-depleting chemicals. It also assigns a cost to carbon emissions to account for the catastrophic economic, environmental, and social effects of global warming.
Changes in Leisure Time
As a nation becomes wealthier, people should have more latitude to choose between work and free time for family or other activities. In recent years, however, the opposite has occurred. The GDP ignores this loss of free time, but the GPI treats leisure as most Americans do—as something of value. When leisure time increases, the GPI goes up; when Americans have less of it, the GPI goes down.
The GDP counts as additions to well-being the money people spend to prevent erosion in their quality of life or to compensate for misfortunes of various kinds. Examples are the medical and repair bills from automobile accidents, commuting costs, and household expenditures on pollution control devices such as water filters. The GPI counts such "defensive" expenditures as most Americans do: as costs rather than as benefits.
Lifespan of Consumer Durables & Public Infrastructure
The GDP confuses the value provided by major consumer purchases (e.g., home appliances) with the amount Americans spend to buy them. This hides the loss in well-being that results when products wear out quickly. The GPI treats the money spent on capital items as a cost, and the value of the service they provide year after year as a benefit. This applies both to private capital items and to public infrastructure, such as highways.
Dependence on Foreign Assets
If a nation allows its capital stock to decline, or if it finances consumption out of borrowed capital, it is living beyond its means. The GPI counts net additions to the capital stock as contributions to well-being, and treats money borrowed from abroad as reductions. If the borrowed money is used for investment, the negative effects are canceled out. But if the borrowed money is used to finance consumption, the GPI declines.
So, these discussions about how much a Compact Fluorescent saves versus the quality of its light and the mercury involved in the functioning of it are valuable, as is the pure discussion of where we should be putting out culture in terms of the wants versus needs contained in Maslow's hierarchy of needs:
IV. SUMMARY (by Maslow)
(1) There are at least five sets of goals, which we may call basic needs. These are briefly physiological, safety, love, 'esteem, and self-actualization. In addition, we are motivated by the desire to achieve or maintain the various conditions upon which these basic satisfactions rest and by certain more intellectual desires.
(2) These basic goals are related to each other, being arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency. This means that the most prepotent goal will monopolize consciousness and will tend of itself to organize the recruitment of the various capacities of the organism. The less prepotent needs are minimized, even forgotten or denied. But when a need is fairly well satisfied, the next prepotent ('higher') need emerges, in turn to dominate the conscious life and to serve as the center of organization of behavior, since gratified needs are not active motivators.
Thus man is a perpetually wanting animal. Ordinarily the satisfaction of these wants is not altogether mutually exclusive, but only tends to be. The average member of our society is most often partially satisfied and partially unsatisfied in all of his wants. The hierarchy principle is usually empirically observed in terms of increasing percentages of non-satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy. Reversals of the average order of the hierarchy are sometimes observed. Also it has been observed that an individual may permanently lose the higher wants in the hierarchy under special conditions. There are not only ordinarily multiple motivations for usual behavior, but in addition many determinants other than motives.
(3) Any thwarting or possibility of thwarting of these basic human goals, or danger to the defenses which protect them, or to the conditions upon which they rest, is considered to be a psychological threat. With a few exceptions, all psychopathology may be partially traced to such threats. A basically thwarted man may actually be defined as a 'sick' man, if we wish.
(4) It is such basic threats which bring about the general emergency reactions.
(5) Certain other basic problems have not been dealt with because of limitations of space. Among these are
(a) the problem of values in any definitive motivation theory,
(b) the relation between appetites, desires, needs and what is 'good' for the organism,
(c) the etiology of the basic needs and their possible derivation in early childhood,
(d) redefinition of motivational concepts, i. e., drive, desire, wish, need, goal,
(e) implication of our theory for hedonistic theory,
(f) the nature of the uncompleted act, of success and failure, and of aspiration-level,
(g) the role of association, habit and conditioning,
(h) relation to the theory of inter-personal relations,
(i) implications for psychotherapy,
(j) implication for theory of society,
(k) the theory of selfishness,
(l) the relation between needs and cultural patterns,
(m) the relation between this theory and Alport's theory of functional autonomy.
These as well as certain other less important questions must be considered as motivation theory attempts to become definitive.
I think these stories about how much methane -- flatuence -- cows produce are great on many levels, but many are factoid-based and wonky, maybe even nerdy; moreover, I don’t know if they are just part of the background noise (remember, mainstream media sensationalizes them), or the distraction away from real change, or if they get us centered on the numbers. It is and is not imporant how much each and every breath and exhale adds to global warming.
Serious discussion on how we can bring down CO2 and mitigate the damage done to oceans, resource availability and what we are going to do to help people who are going to pay dearly the early brunt of global warming’s negative outcomes is where we might end up after we make fun of Bono and Gore. Check this out, and be ready for future blogs discussing this Stabilization Wedges concept. It's yet another way to couch where we should be shfting our societies, and if post-carbon society is possible with the level of consumption and wants we have as a species.
And here’s a Flash Video for further illustration.
The bottom line is that we all are a part of creating CO2, and our tech-oriented lives in the so-called industrialized and “first world” countries effect everything globally, atmospherically as well as economically. Just a Google search ramps up all these servers and computers, which draw direct energy to run and cool them during the searches -- billions in a month's time. What about the embedded energy to create all that hardware? Here’s an interesting story on a physicist’s research on Google searches. Of course, Google disagrees with his findings.
Carbon cost' of Google revealed
Two search requests on the internet website Google produce "as much carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle", according to a Harvard University academic.
US physicist Alex Wissner-Gross claims that a typical Google search on a desktop computer produces about 7g CO2. However, these figures were disputed by Google, who say a typical search produced only 0.2g of carbon dioxide. A recent study by American research firm Gartner suggested that IT now causes two percent of global emissions. Dr Wissner-Gross's study claims that two Google searches on a desktop computer produces 14g of CO2, which is the roughly the equivalent of boiling an electric kettle.
How many people will then switch to Ecosearch.com, which is a search engine (not Ecosearch.org, which is Google owned), for on-line searches. Ecosearch offsets the amount of CO2 with the electricity used to run the searches with planting trees.
Is this a feel good action? A drop in the bucket? Maybe, and it may be that these little changes are valuable. Read on and consider your lifestyle choices and consider the footprint it takes to be entertained, to fly to your niece’s wedding (love miles as George Monbiot, author of Heat, calls those air miles many in the Western World rely upon for self-gratification)
What is Ecosearch?
Ecosearch is a search engine that uses Yahoo technology and helps reforesting trees and safeguard water resources in the Amazon region, which constitute today one fourth of the fresh water reserves of our planet.
By using Ecosearch you get same results and help the non-profit association Aquaverde (Switzerland) and the French Cœur de Forêt.
In Spain, Ecosearch collaborates with Fundación Canaria para la Reforestación (FORESTA).
How it works?
For every search in Ecosearch, you contribute symbolically to reforest one leaf.
For every 10,000 searches, Ecosearch and Aquaverde plant a tree in the Amazon and in the Canary Islands.
1 search= 10,000 = 1 Planted tree