The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet report (full report as PDF) is an interesting read. Page 19 of the report contains an interesting observation. The graph plots Human Development Index against Ecological Footprint.
The Human Development Index is the UN’s measure for standard of living and development. “Human Development Index (HDI) is an index combining normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide.” The threshold for acceptable human development is defined as a HDI of 0.8.
The Ecological Footprint measures the use of natural resources and effects on the ecosystem.
It compares human consumption of natural resources with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate them. It is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste, given prevailing technology and current understanding.
An ecological footprint of 1 means that if everybody in the world made use of resources in the same way as the citizens in this country, the Earth could just sustain it. An ecological footprint of 2 means two planet Earths would be needed to sustain this lifestyle if everybody in the world lived like this. Of course, if the ecological footprint is more than one planet Earth, this lifestyle is not sustainable.
As you’d expect, the two are correlated. The higher the standard of living, the greater the ecological footprint.
It’s interesting to note that the only country which is sustainably developed is Cuba. If everybody on Earth was to adopt the Cuban lifestyle, everybody would have an acceptable standard of living and we would be operating at 80% of our planet’s ecological capacity.
What this suggests is that if everybody in the world adopted the lifestyle of US citizens, we would need more than 5 planet Earths to sustain it. The USA is obviously appropriating well more than it’s fair share of natural resources.
Of course, I’m not seriously suggesting we all adopt Cuban laws and lifestyles but I think it’s a good way of visualising how sustainable the lifestyles of different countries are. Perhaps there are a few ideas we could adopt from Cuba though.