OUT ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT THE RIO+10 INTERVIEW MATHIS WACKERNAGEL
Dr. Mathis Wackernagel is the President of the Global Footprint Network, and the co-creator of ecological footprint accounting (which he developed with Global Vision adviser Prof. William E. Rees). This new branch of environmental economics deserves a Nobel Prize. It's a resource accounting tool that enables individuals, businesses, cities, nations and humankind as a whole to quantify and understand their ecological balance sheet, and gives them the hard data they need to manage their resources and secure their future.
The ecological footprint is a scientific measure of the ratio between resource consumption and waste production on one hand, and the ecological carrying capacity of planet earth or of a defined portion thereof (such as a local ecosystem, nation or continent). Footprint accounts work like bank statements, documenting whether we are living within our ecological budget or consuming nature's resources faster than the planet can renew them. The Global Footprint Network now includes hundreds of individuals, 200 cities, 23 nations, leading business, scientists, NGOs, academics and over 90 global Partners on six continents, as well as the ecological ranking of nations by footprint instead of GDP.
The Global Footprint Network publishes Footprint Reports for Countries and Regions. It has been co-authoring WWF's Living Planet Reports for over ten years. The Living Planet Report 2008 showed that if current trends don't change humanity will be demanding 2 planets' worth of resources by the mid 2030s. The report includes updated Ecological Footprint and biocapacity data for 150 countries, projections for 2050, and suggests pathways for humanity to change course towards one planet living.
At the time of this interview, Mathis was Director of the Sustainability Program at Redefining Progress in Oakland, California. He also directed the Centre for Sustainability Studies / Centro de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad in Mexico, which he still advises. Mathis' awards include an honorary doctorate from the University of Berne in 2007, a 2007 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, a 2006 WWF Award for Conservation Merit and the 2005 Herman Daly Award of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics. development issues.
MATHIS WACKERNAGEL: The ecological footprint is a very simple tool to tell us how much nature do we have, how much do we use. If we divide the planet's ecological capacity by the number of people what we get is about 2 hectares per person. Then we can compare that area with the area necessary for us to produce food, fibres, absorb CO2, host our infrastructure. And when we add it up, for example in the United States, it adds up to roughly 9 to 10 hectares of ecological capacity to provide for an average American. That means that if everyone lived like an American, it would take about six planets. But we only have one! And some of it we should leave for other species.
Now world-wide we already use 20% more than what nature can regenerate every year. That means every year, we use what nature takes one year and about two and a bit more months to regenerate. So overall, we are running on ecological debt.
The footprint helps us to preserve our ecological assets, by being a way of being able to keep our books, to make sure that what we spend ecologically does not exceed what we earn. Now we have no books. Any company that doesn't have its books will go bankrupt over time. And that's what we are preparing for ecologically. Without books for our ecological resources we will continue to spend more than what we get from nature, thereby liquidating our assets. We need to protect our assets. That's at the core of sustainability. The ecological footprint helps us to do that.
What about the ecological footprint of cities?
A huge part of our resources are spent in cities. The way we build our cities determines how much we'll use cars or public transportation, how big the houses are, how well they are insulated. A lot of it is organised through local planning and the way we set our standards in cities. That's a big opportunity for cities because cities also spend a lot on building their infrastructure, so at the same time that we can make our cities much more ecologically effective we can also reap some of the benefits locally again.
The ecological footprint can be a very useful tool to monitor whether we actually move in the right direction, because it helps us to analyse or to summarise how we draw on nature in a simple comprehensive format. Similar to the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product that helps us to find out how much money is changing hands in the economy - very useful in order to look at the health of an economy - we also need to look at the ecological footprint to look at the health of the ecosystem services that support our economy. That we can do not only at the national level or the global level, we can also do it at the city level or even at the individual level. When cities start to measure their own ecological footprint, they have a comprehensive tool to see whether actually they're moving in the right direction.
Are most cities running ecological deficits? Presumably footprint analysis shows that most cities are way ecologically unsustainable at the moment. Is that true?
Obviously cities on their own have a hard time to be sustainable. For example when we analysed Paris, we found that the area supporting Paris is about 300 times larger than Paris itself! Now is that a problem? If there are 300 Paris areas available to support Paris, obviously not. But we are in a world that is ecologically constrained. Already today we use 20% more than Earth can regenerate. So cities is really where the action happens, where we have to find out how can we use city structures more effectively so all people can live well within the limited capacity that we have, now roughly 2 hectares of ecological capacity per person world-wide. How can we build cities that can operate on that budget? That's the big challenge and that's where we can make a huge contribution..
THE NEED FOR GLOBAL REGULATIONS THE RIO+10 INTERVIEW JONATHAN LASH
At the time of this interview, Jonathan Lash was President of the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington DC. Its mission is to move human society to live in ways that protect the Earth's environment and future generations. From 1993 to 1999 he was Co-chair of the U.S. President's Council on Sustainable Development, a group of U.S. government, business, labour, civil rights, and environmental leaders appointed by Clinton to developed visionary recommendations for strategies to promote sustainable development.
Jonathan has served on a variety of international commissions and boards, including the DuPont Biotechnology Advisory Panel; the Tata Energy and Resources Institute (India); the Keidanren Committee on Nature Conservation (Japan); the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development; Generation Investment Management, The VIVA Trust, and the Avina Foundation. He has chaired advisory groups to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Secretary General of the OECD. In December 2007, he was named "one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics" for the year by Ethisphere Magazine, recognising his "commitment to ethical leadership and corporate social responsibility."
JONATHAN LASH: If you think about the big drivers that are affecting people's future - climate change, biodiversity - in reality we haven't done anything yet since Rio to slow them down. Emissions of greenhouse gases have grown sharply since Rio, loss of forests has continued unabated since Rio, loss of species has continued. So the progress, if there's been progress, is more in accommodating to reality. People understand how hard it's going to be, and are developing new approaches to try to make that happen.
How do you feel about voluntary corporate change versus regulatory change?
We're not going to solve problems like global warming purely through voluntary actions by corporations. They simply can't afford to do it because they work in a competitive market. They need multi-lateral frameworks, they need rules. I sat with Phil Watts this morning - the chairman of Shell - and he was being very explicitly to a pair of reporters about the fact that he really needed rules to continue what he was doing.
That said, the voluntary actions that are being taken by corporations now are driving things much more quickly than governments are, and it's an enormous opportunity for those of us in civil society.
Given the kind of data that World Resources Institute and other NGOs have, which clearly show a link between security and sustainability, do you think the American intelligence communities are not doing their job, or are they not being listened to if they are indeed reporting on what the real threats are?
Since I haven't been at the receiving end of intelligence briefings, I can't really answer your question, Michael, but I certainly have seen evidence in public statements that the CIA has begun to pay attention to environment and natural resources as a driver of insecurity. Whether they're re including that in their reports to President Bush I simply don't know. There's not much evidence of it, is there?
Any brief soundbite you want to tell the world?
The thing I've been thinking about, since I'm a sports fan: I was greatly relieved that the billionaire owners in baseball and the millionaire players of baseball finally agreed that in order to save the game, they had to avoid a strike. That took months of negotiation. I wish that the negotiators here [at the World Summit on Sustainable Development] would remember that they are trying to save the Earth.
CAN WE RESIST species suicide? THE FUTURE TAPES INTERVIEW TDR. R.D. LAING
Ronnie Laing was an early participant in the Global Vision Project. This short interview - a time capsule from 1988 - is a sound bite recorded during the height of the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the USA, when the global military budget was at an all all-time high of one trillion dollars per annum.
R.D. LAING: We have achieved, in the last two or three generations, the capacity to kill ourselves. We are the only species we know that can do that. We've got to make up our minds about this. This is a crisis for the human species. We have biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and chemical weapons that can wipe us out - and all life-forms in the world - at the snap of a finger. We're very close to doing that. We need not do that. Are we going to do that?
Now we've got the capacity to do that, and capacity is sweet. Oppenheimer, when asked why he went for the hydrogen bomb, said "Well, it was so sweet, the capacity to do it was so sweet it was irresistible."
Can we resist species suicide? Whether we're good or evil, whether we're in power or not, are we going to keep this show on the road or not? If we want to, then we've got to put all our hearts and minds and souls into that project of survival.
GMO-FREE REGIONS THE GLOBAL VISION INTERVIEW BENEDIKT HAERLIN
Benedikt Haerlin is the head of the Berlin office of the Foundation on Future Farming, an NGO which supports pioneering, ecologically and socially sustainable agricultural projects. He is also the Director of Save Our Seeds which works to keep conventional and organic seeds free of genetically modified organisms. He organised the European Conference on GMO-free Regions, Biodiversity and Rural Development in January 2005. He is the former Director of the Greenpeace global GMO campaign.
This is the transcript of Global Vision video of Benedikt Haerlin at the European Conference of GMO-free Regions, Biodiversity and Rural Development which he chaired on 22-23 January 2005 in Berlin, Germany. The event was organised by the Assembly of European Regions (AER), the European Network on Genetic Engineering and the Foundation on Future Farming and was sponsored by the German Government's Agency for Nature Conservation. 200 delegates from GMO free regions and from 30 European countries called on the European institutions to protect conventional and organic seeds from GMO contamination, to establish the regions' right to stay GMO-free and to give them a say in the approval process of GMOs, which they find scientifically questionable and not based on the precautionary principle. A principal outcome of this conference was the Berlin Manifesto for GMO-free Regions and Biodiversity in Europe.
What threat do GMOs pose to the agricultural seed supply?
One of the most vulnerable areas in agriculture at the moment is seed production. Obviously, there can be no minimum threshold for seeds being contaminated with GMOs. Maize and – even worse – rapeseed, are out-crossing over large distances. So seed production must be protected. We also need a European regulation which clearly establishes what is already in European law but not yet implemented in seed legislation, that seeds which contain GMOs must be labeled as such at the practical detection level.
Do you think the European Commission will take action to implement the Assembly of European Regions / Friends of the Earth campaign to strenghthen legislation for GMO-free zones to be more clearly defined and easy to set up?
The present legislation (which the European Commission has already implemented, and which the Member States are about to implement) only allows for GMO-free regions under very limited and still not very clear conditions. We believe a call to allow for the regions to determine their future, and to determine whether they want to grow GMO crops or not, will be on the agenda in Brussels this year, in 2005. Also, the new Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs. Fischer Boel (from Denmark), has announced that she thinks there need to be European-wide minimum standards for "co-existence" [of conventional and organic farming with GMO crops] and that the latter should include a precise definition of how regions can keep GMOs out of their territory if they wish to do so. This is the best - and probably the only way - for them to guarantee "co-existence".
Ireland is geographically isolated, surrounded by sea, and upstream from the wind that blows across Europe, since 80% of the time our wind blows in off the Atlantic. In addition, we probably have the lowest previous GM contamination exposure in Europe, as there have been very few field trials in our country. Do you think EU governments might support a case for Ireland to be set aside as a biosafety reserve for the security of the member states?
I think Ireland's particuiar situation – as an island that is better protected from unwanted gene transfer by wind-borne pollen than most European areas, and because your winds usually blow in from the West – makes it a perfect place to preserve the seeds heritage and the diversity of presently available commercial seeds, by staying GMO-free. The economic opportunities for Ireland are obviously in the non-GM sector.
This presents a big opportunity, especially for international seed companies but also smaller and medium sized seed companies throughout the European Union. If Ireland were in a position to guarantee these companies that there is no threat of GMO pollution in your country, this would provide them with a great opportunity to use Ireland as a safe place for their seed reproduction. This would not only be an economic benefit, but could also be an advantage in terms of the further development of seeds and innovations and new jobs in research and development.
The simple message from very many regions all across Europe is: please keep Ireland GMO-free!