We're in ecological debt once again, and we haven't got long to repay the loan

Posted by jamie — 23 September 2008 at 2:07pm - Comments

A projection at the Labour conference shows how long we have to avert catastrophic climate change

One down, 99 to go: the clock is ticking at the Labour conference © Will Rose

Today might be your run-of-the-mill Tuesday with nothing more remarkable than the news that a rover on Mars will take two years to travel 11km, plus a slight smattering of rain. But according to the New Economics Foundation (NEF), today is more significant than you might expect because it's the point in the year when we've used up all of the resources the Earth can produce and we start going into ecological debt.

In the space of 12 months, our planet can only produce so much in the way of forests, fisheries and fresh water and what NEF have done is calculate when, given our rates of consumption, that stock of natural resources runs out. Beyond that date to the end of the year, we're living on ecological debt, a notion more shaky than any sub-prime mortgage or short selling of stocks and shares.

Last year, what NEF are calling Ecological Debt Day fell on October 9, nearly two weeks later than this year so as our consumption grows, the period of debt grows longer and longer. (Although new calculations have been used this year to incorporate emissions from burning forests to clear land for agriculture and biofuel production, applying those to last year's data changes the date to September 28, so consumption is still on the up.)

To force the point home, at the Labour conference in Manchester last night a countdown appeared (see image above), ticking down the 100 months we roughly have to reduce consumption and emissions before we reach the tipping point to runaway climate change. (It's true, we could be already past that point, but let's be optimistic.) The clock was started on August 1 by onehundredmonths.org, to show that time is running out but, significantly, that we still have time to turn things around. NEF are involved, asis Greenpeace and many, many other organisations.

As I type, I can hear Gordon Brown's speech on the TV in the press department. I'm not sure what he's going to say, but given the recent financial and politic turmoil, environmental concerns will not be top of the list. Although given the recent lessons learned about living on unsustainable debt, you'd think words of action would be first from our glorious leader's lips. There's a good quote from Andrew Simms, policy director at NEF, which sums it up:

"It took governments in the UK and US just a week to drop decades of hardened economic practice to save the financial system from meltdown, why should it take any longer to act to save the planet."

Why indeed.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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