03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We're Borrowing Half A Planet From Our Kids

Global society draws down the planet’s capital ever more quickly. According to new data just released by the Global Footprint Network, our ecological footprint amounts to 6.4 acres per person – almost 50 percent more than the Earth’ biocapacity of 4.5 acres per person. In spite of efforts to green our economy, the gap between what we consume and what the Earth can sustainably produce continues to widen.

Planet Earth is generously endowed with natural resources. On average, the 5.5 billion people living in low- and middle-income countries still use less than the biocapacity which we all have available. Yet high-income countries splurge an unsustainable 15 acres per person. The United Arab Emirates lead the pack of wasteful consumers with an average of 25.4 acres per person, closely followed by Qatar and the United States with 22.3 acres. As the Global Footprint Network points out, we are claiming more than 17 football fields per person through our consumption. Our carbon emissions alone account for more than two thirds of this footprint.

Since we can’t borrow extra biocapacity from outer space, we are borrowing it from our children. 1986 was the first year in which humanity used up more resources than the planet could produce. In 2009, the Global Footprint Network estimates, we used up all the resources that can be sustainably produced in a year by September 25. If all global citizens consumed at the rate that we do, we would have reached this point in mid-March.

The Global Footprint Network uses a thorough scientific approach which relies on about 6,000 data points from UN statistics per country per year. It works with governments, companies and other institutions to integrate the global footprint concept into their decision-making. “It’s clearly in the self-interest of every country to transition quickly from carbon and resource-intensive economies to the economies of the future,” commented the Network’s President Mathis Wackernagel.

The latest report shows the task which world leaders will face in Copenhagen. As we give thanks for what we have got this season, we should once again remember what we owe future generations. While we can’t participate in the negotiations of the upcoming climate summit, our lifestyle choices are up to us.