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Sustainable Development / Sustainable Living
TEDx presentation by Mathis Wackernagel
Video ... How much Nature do we have? How much do we use? | Mathis Wackernagel | TEDxSanFrancisco
Published on Dec 22, 2015
How much Nature do we have? How much do we use? | Mathis Wackernagel | TEDxSanFrancisco
Published on Dec 22, 2015
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0:12Hello San Francisco.
0:18This awesome planet
0:22is full with life
0:24and covered with diverse ecosystems.
0:29And the people living on this planet are technological wizards.
0:36They have built spacecrafts
0:39to take the largest selfies ever
0:45And if the resolution was a bit higher you would see them wave.
0:51And these people very much like you and me are incredibly voracious.
0:57To the extent that now it takes 1.6 planets
1:03to meet the demand that they put on nature.
1:09In other words,
1:12their demand on nature is 60% more than what Earth can renew.
1:18Or it takes 19 months to regenerate what they take in one year.
1:26How's that possible?
1:27Now, I've heard of some people who can spend more than what they earn.
1:32Or we can cut trees more quickly than they regrow,
1:36or we can fish more quickly than fish repopulate,
1:40or we can emit CO2 more quickly than the Earth can absorb that excess.
1:46And like with money, if we continue to spend more than what we earn
1:50the likelihood of financial bankruptcy is high,
1:52and the same thing is true with resources.
1:54If we use more than what Earth can regenerate over the long term,
1:59that means ecological bankruptcy,
2:04which means a very depleted planet with harsh life conditions.
2:08My obsession is to avoid ecological bankruptcy through metric.
2:14Because how can we measure, how can we know,
2:19how much we use compared to how much we have available?
2:23And for that we developed an ecological accounting system,
2:29to tell us
2:32how big of a planet we have compared to how much we use.
2:36It's called the Ecological Footprint.
2:39We borrow the thinking from farmers
2:43because they look at how much area is there that is productive,
2:47for grazing land, cropland, forestry, marine areas,
2:51that's what we have, we call that biocapacity.
2:54Then we compare that with how much we use, the Ecological Footprint
2:58for food, for fiber, for absorbing CO2 waste,
3:04for our urban areas, all areas that compete for space,
3:08so we can add it up and know how much we use.
3:12Then we can compare the two: how much do we use,
3:14how much footprint do we use compared to how much we have?
3:18And when we do that, and we look at nations as if they were farms,
3:24this is how the world looked like when I was born.
3:28Most countries here in green had far more biocapacity
3:33than what it took to support their population.
3:36And you can see some countries are already red:
3:39Europe, with the colonial heritage, they used more resources;
3:42Japan; United States is turning pinkish.
3:45And in my lifetime it has changed to a world where now
3:5085% of the world population live in countries
3:54that use more than what their own ecosystems can renew.
3:59And it's different for every country.
4:01But there's an overarching trend, the global trend,
4:04and it looks like this. [World: Biocapacity]
4:06That the biocapacity, the amount available to regenerate,
4:09has actually increased over the last 50 years about 20%.
4:14Because through more intensive agriculture
4:17we can now generate more stuff per acre.
4:23Can we maintain that trend? We don't know.
4:25Maybe we can a little bit.
4:26Maybe if there will be a lot of climate change,
4:30that will reduce biocapacity.
4:33But we have increased it 20%. [World: Biocapacity and Footprint]
4:36But perhaps more importantly, our demand on nature,
4:38our ecological footprint has grown 2.5 fold, even more rapidly.
4:42So we moved from a world
4:44where we used less than what Earth could regenerate
4:46to one where we now use 60% more.
4:52And every country's different. Let me just show you one.
4:54Spain: [Spain Biocapacity and Footprint]
4:56very rapid increase, particularly as they entered the European Union,
5:00they got money more cheaply, that they can build out the country,
5:03and the footprint grew, and then there was a financial crisis,
5:06and - boop - the footprint declined.
5:09So how is it possible that a country can run an ecological deficit?
5:13There are three mechanisms really.
5:14One is they can use their own ecosystems more than what they regenerate;
5:19they can net import -
5:20that means the import of resources exceeds the export of resources;
5:25and they can also use the global commons,
5:28mainly through emitting CO2 more than what their ecosystems absorb,
5:32so they send this beautiful gift of CO2 to the world.
5:38Now this contradiction between planetary boundaries and our growing appetite
5:44has been recognized for quite some time,
5:46particularly the 70s, lots of books were published, etc.,
5:50and my first experience with that contradiction was utterly pleasant.
5:55I was 11 years old when the first oil crisis hit.
5:59And the world economy nearly came to a standstill.
6:04And Switzerland, where I lived, had this great idea
6:07to counteract that with car-free Sundays.
6:10For us children it was just fantastic.
6:13We could bicycle and roller skate on the highways,
6:15we could roam through the city freely and safely, we had a great time.
6:21And it took another 20 years until heads of state got together
6:24in Rio in 1992 to say maybe we should do something about that.
6:28And they came up with this idea of sustainable development.
6:34They weren't yet too sure what it meant, and it took another 20 years -
6:39a day to remember: 25th of September 2015 -
6:44where 193 heads of state with the Pope got together and said,
6:48'Here, let's launch the largest plan ever for sustainable development,'
6:52the Sustainable Development Goals.
6:56They span over 17 domains and have about 169 targets.
7:01And so really, for the first time in history, actually,
7:04we have moved beyond just human rights.
7:06Now the new dream is human rights,
7:09but the bigger one, called sustainable development,
7:11that's the official dream of humanity.
7:15Now what exactly do they mean with sustainable development?
7:19If you cruise the web you will find hundreds of definitions,
7:22some of them deliberately vague
7:24because people don't want to be [accountable].
7:26But the essence is very simple, these two words:
7:31Development is the short hand of policy geeks to say,
7:35'We all want to have great lives.'
7:37'We all want to have great lives.'
7:40But if all want to have great lives, why do we say sustainable?
7:43Because we recognize the budget constraint that there's only one planet.
7:48So that's really the essence,
7:49how can we all live well within the means of one planet?
7:53And really if I had a big wish, I wish all universities,
7:58all research institutions, all parliaments,
8:01all White Houses around the world,
8:03on their doorway they would say,
8:05'How can we all live well within the means of one planet?'
8:09That's the most profound, overarching, mother-of-all-research questions
8:14that we still don't know about, and we need talent to find out.
8:18But once we define it, we can start to measure it,
8:23and that's going to be the core of my gift to you, I hope.
8:27When we say how can we measure sustainable development,
8:30let's start with development.
8:31How do we measure that?
8:33It's not that easy, but the United Nations came up with a very simple index,
8:38recognizing that people, yes, they do like income.
8:41So they say, yes, income's one piece, but not only.
8:46People also like to have long, healthy lives.
8:49So the second pillar is longevity.
8:52They say, 'we want to have long lives.'
8:54And then they added a third pillar
8:55recognizing that in order to cooperate well,
8:58to work well together, to participate actively,
9:00we need to have access to education,
9:02we need to be able to read and write, be able to communicate with each other.
9:06So they have this index that goes from 0 to 1,
9:10and 0.7 would be the threshold to high human development - that's on your right.
9:16So that's the development part.
9:18But then the sustainable part.
9:21How many resources does it take to support this kind of development?
9:24How much planet does it take?
9:28And for that, we have the Ecological Footprint.
9:35But it's not just how much it takes, but also how much we have.
9:41So there's this is horizontal line
9:43that shows how much capacity is available per person.
9:48That's this number, 1.7.
9:50What does it mean? Very easy.
9:52You may remember from high school that we live on a round, spherical planet,
9:57and it is 40,000 kilometers to go once around the planet.
10:02And with a bit of geometry
10:03you can calculate the surface of this planet.
10:06And then you look at the map,
10:07and you recognize not every part of the surface is highly productive.
10:10There're the deep oceans, the ice fields, the deserts, not very productive.
10:15But a quarter is highly productive: forests, grazing land, marine areas,
10:20you just add them all up,
10:22there are about 12 billion hectares of ecological productive space.
10:26And we are 7.3 billion people, so you have an easy division.
10:30And what you see is 1.7 global hectares,
10:35average hectares per person, exist on this planet.
10:38Now, one little detail:
10:41How many species are we?
10:45And there may be up to a hundred million wild species out there
10:48that also like to eat, wine and dine.
10:51So maybe this budget needs to be shared to some extent,
10:54maybe we don't want to use the entire budget for ourselves, maybe.
10:58But still we have these two lines that define high human development,
11:02and we want be under that budget.
11:05This gives us this box,
11:06this box where on average we would want to be to have great lives
11:12within an amount of resources that is available over the long run.
11:19Really, I don't know if I'm allowed to say it in Silicon Valley -
11:22it's an invitation to think inside the box.
11:27You may wonder where do countries lie,
11:31and I won't lie to you,
11:33I will show you the cloud in colors, color coded by continents,
11:39and what does this cloud tell us?
11:42One is, there's this trend,
11:43it seems like the more higher development there is,
11:46the more we use resources.
11:49But also what is extremely interesting at any level of development,
11:53the spread of resource demand is quite high.
11:55That means there's no physical law in itself
11:58that dictates how many resources are needed
12:02for a certain level of development, so there's a lot of spread possible.
12:07And people may say, 'Oh, is it hard to get into the box?'
12:12Maybe it is hard, but what's the alternative?
12:16And that's why I admire particularly research initiatives
12:20that try to find out how we can get into this box.
12:23I just want to mention two:
12:26One from foggy, cold London,
12:29and the other one from hot and dry Abu Dhabi.
12:33The one in London, is driven by an organization called Bioregional.
12:37They said we need to find out how we can have one-planet living.
12:41And they started the development for about 40 households
12:44where people could have better lives than the UK on average,
12:48and at the same time, would fit within what one planet can provide.
12:53And they succeeded with having great lives, people love to live there.
12:57It's called BedZED.
12:59Their footprint is substantially lower than what the UK uses,
13:03but not yet at 1.7.
13:05And so they're now trying with 10 more communities around the world,
13:08one in Sonoma county, quite an interesting initiative.
13:11Another one in Abu Dhabi called Masdar.
13:15There, it's actually government sponsored;
13:17they know in the long run, somehow we have to live on this planet.
13:21They said we have to look at the city's scale.
13:23Can we build an entire city that operates on few resources,
13:28and people can have a great life,
13:30even in a harsh climate like in Abu Dhabi?
13:34And they have started first elements of the city,
13:36and it's still far away from their goal.
13:38But they also have coupled it
13:39with one of the most prestigious research institutions in Abu Dhabi
13:44to really find out: can they get there?
13:46And if these two experiments haven't really gotten there,
13:50it's not really their problem,
13:52it's really our problem
13:53that we have been able to do that worldwide
13:55because as a worldwide average,
13:57can we move ourselves into this box?
14:03Having the metric, what's the conclusion for us?
14:06And I would like to give you just three:
14:09The first one, very simple: measure.
14:15There's an old saying: you can manage what you measure.
14:19Now we can measure sustainable development.
14:22If you don't know how much footprint you use
14:26compared to how much biocapacity you have,
14:28it's a bit like flying plane without a fuel gauge -
14:31gets a bit dangerous after a few hours in the air.
14:40having a measure, you gain a voice.
14:43You can say what you want;
14:44you can tell where we need to get;
14:46and you can keep accountability
14:48where they actually move in this direction.
14:51Having the metrics, you can ask your mayor,
14:53your city council, your representatives, your president, your national leaders
14:59to build a sustainable future,
15:02and track whether we're moving in this direction.
15:04What does that mean?
15:05How do we need to refurbish our cities?
15:07How do we need to change our transportation systems?
15:11How do we need to shift our power system to a solar power system possibly,
15:18Do we need to empower women more?
15:20Do we need to encourage smaller families, perhaps?
15:22All that we can measure and find out, is it moving in this direction?
15:31Does it help you to design your own life?
15:34Sweat the big things.
15:37What are the big things?
15:38Through the metrics you can think, how do you want to invest?
15:43Where do you want to live? How do you want to live?
15:47How resource-dependent do you want to be?
15:50What projects do you want to be engaged in?
15:53Do you want to be in projects that will be the long-term winners
15:57as they gain value in a world of resources constraints?
16:00Or, are you investing your life in stranded assets?
16:04So what I hope is that through this metric,
16:07what I gave you is a compass.
16:10But in the end, the path is yours.
16:14Thank you very much.
August 19th is Earth Overshoot Day 2014 marking the day when humanity has exhausted Earth’s budget for this year. In his talk, Mathis explains the economical implications of the consumption.
Mathis is co-creator of the Ecological Footprint and President of Global Footprint Network. He completed a Ph.D. in community and regional planning with Professor William Rees at the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral dissertation developed the ‘Ecological Footprint’ concept.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
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