Page last updated at 00:56 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 01:56 UK

Recession barely dents 'eco-debt'

By Judith Burns
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

shopper in supermarket
The world first went into "ecological debt" in 1980, according to Nef

The recession has had little impact on humanity's over-consumption of resources, says a report.

The New Economics Foundation (Nef) calculates the day each year when the world goes into "ecological debt."

This is the date by which humanity has used the quantity of natural resources that ought to last an entire year if used at a sustainable rate.

This year, "ecological debt day" falls on 25 September - just one day later than in 2008.

According to Nef, this means that the biggest recession for nearly a century has made very little difference to global consumption.

The report, entitled The Consumption Explosion: the Third UK Interpendence Day Report, asserts that the overall trend of our collective ecological footprint is deeply negative, with humanity still environmentally over-extending itself to a dangerous degree.

Debt-fuelled

Andrew Simms, Nef policy director and co-author of the report, said: "Debt-fuelled over-consumption not only brought the financial system to the edge of collapse, it is pushing many of our natural life support systems toward a precipice.

"Politicians tell us to get back to business as usual; but if we bankrupt critical ecosystems, no amount of government spending will bring them back.

"We need a radically different approach to rich world consumption."

Calling for an end to the consumption explosion, he said that while billions in poorer countries subsist, "we (in the rich West) consume vastly more, and yet with little or nothing to show for it in terms of greater life satisfaction."

The report calls for an end in particular to what it calls "boomerang trade", where countries simultaneously import and export similar goods.

For example, the report says the UK imports 22,000 tonnes of potatoes from Egypt and exports 27,000 tonnes back the other way.

While 5,000 tonnes of toilet paper heads to Germany from the UK, more than 4,000 tonnes is imported back.

The report calls for us to pay the full environmental cost of transport, and calls for more investment in renewable energy.

It also rejects suggestions that reducing the size of the Earth's human population would help the environment, claiming this focus is a critical distraction from tackling over-consumption in wealthy countries.

It points out that one person in the US will, by 4am on the morning of 2 January, already have been responsible for emitting as much carbon as someone living in Tanzania would generate in an entire year.

It says that a UK citizen would reach the same position by 7pm on 4 January.

Nef used figures from the Global Footprint Network to make its calculations.



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