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State of the World 2013
Still Possible?
Getting to One-Planet Living
Jennie Moore and William E. Rees
Jennie Moore is the director of
sustainable development and
environmental stewardship in
the School of Construction and
the Environment at the British
Columbia Institute of Technol-
ogy. William E. Rees is Professor
Emeritus in the School of
Community and Regional Plan-
ning at the University of British
In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond asks the
obvious question of a forest-dependent society: “What was the Easter Is-
lander who cut down the last tree thinking?” For those familiar with the
human tendency to habituate to virtually any conditions, the answer might
very well be “nothing much.” The individual who cut down Easter Island’s
last significant tree probably did not noticeably alter a familiar landscape.
True, that person was likely standing in a scrubby woodland with vastly di-
minished biodiversity compared with the dense forest of earlier generations.
Nevertheless, the incremental encroachments that eventually precipitated
the collapse of Easter Island society were likely insufficient in the course of
any one islander’s life to raise general alarm. Some of the tribal elders might
have worried about the shrinking forest, but there is no evidence that they
did—or could have done—much to reverse the inexorable decline of the
island’s ecosystem.1
Too bad. With the felling of the last “old-growth” trees on the island,
the forest passed a no-return threshold beyond which collapse of the en-
tire socio-ecosystem was inevitable. No doubt several factors contributed
to this tragic implosion—perhaps a combination of natural stresses cou-
pled with rat predation of palm nuts, human “predation” of adult trees,
overpopulation of both rats and humans, the misallocation of resources
to an intertribal competition to construct ever bigger moai (the famous
sacred monolithic stone heads), or perhaps even some tribal invincibility
myth. But there is little doubt that human overexploitation of the limited
resources of a finite island was a major driver. The wiser members of the
community probably saw what was coming. In slightly different circum-
stances the islanders could conceivably have responded to reverse the de-
cline, but in the end Easter Island society was unable to organize effectively
to save itself.
Fast forward. We might well ask ourselves what the Canadian govern-
40 | State of the World 2013
ment was thinking in the early 1990s when it ignored scientists’ warnings
and a well-documented 30-year decline in spawning stock biomass and al-
lowed commercial fishers to drive the Atlantic Cod stock to collapse. What
are North Americans thinking today as they strip the boreal forest to get at
tar-sands crude or jeopardize already shrinking water supplies by “frack-
ing” oil-shales for natural gas and petroleum, even as burning the stuff
threatens to push the global climate system over the brink? And what are
Brazilians, Congolese, Malaysians, and Indonesians thinking as they har-
vest the world’s great rainforests for short-term economic gain (through
rare tropical hardwoods, cattle farms, soy production, or oil-palm planta-
tions, for instance)?
Certainly the governments and corporate leaders of these nations know
that their actions are destroying the world’s greatest deposits of biodiversity,
increasing the atmosphere’s carbon burden, and accelerating long-term cli-
mate change. Nevertheless, as the U.N. Department of Economic and Social
Affairs notes, because “so many of the components of existing economic
systems are ‘locked into’ the use of non-green and non-sustainable tech-
nologies, much is at stake in terms of the high cost of moving out of those
technologies. Result? A world in policy paralysis. 2
System collapse is a complicated process. Ecosystem thresholds are not
marked with signs warning of impending danger. We may actually pass
through a tipping point unaware because nothing much happens at first.
However, positive feedback ensures that accelerating changes in key vari-
ables eventually trigger a chain reaction: critical functions fail and the sys-
tem can implode like a house of cards. Complexity theory and ecosystems
dynamics warn of the dangers of overexploitation and explain observed
cycles of climax and collapse. Yet the world community is in effect running a
massive unplanned experiment on the only planet we have to see how far we
can push the ecosphere before it “flips” into an alternative stability domain
that may not be amenable to human civilization. Examples of inexorable
trends include the loss of topsoil, atmospheric greenhouse gas accumula-
tion, acidification of oceans with negative impacts on fisheries, coastal ero-
sion, and the flooding of cities.3
We can illustrate the human pressure on nature using Ecological Foot-
print accounting. (See Box 4–1.) Ecological Footprints estimate the produc-
tive ecosystem area required, on a continuous basis, by any specified popu-
lation to produce the renewable resources it consumes and to assimilate its
(mostly carbon) wastes. There are only 11.9 billion hectares of productive
ecosystem area on the planet. If this area were distributed equally among
the 7 billion people on Earth today, each person would be allocated just 1.7
global hectares (gha) per capita. (A global hectare represents a hectare of
global average biological productivity.)4
Getting to One-Planet Living | 41
The Ecological Footprint compares a population’s
demand on productive ecosystems—its footprint—
with biocapacity, the ability of those ecosystems
to keep up with this demand. The Global Footprint
Network’s National Footprint Accounts tracks the foot-
prints of countries by measuring the area of cropland,
grazing land, forest, and sheries required to produce
the food, ber, and timber resources being consumed
and to absorb the carbon dioxide (CO2) waste emitted
when burning fossil fuels. When humanity’s Ecological
Footprint exceeds the planet’s biocapacity, harvests are
exceeding yields, causing a depletion of existing stocks
or the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmo-
sphere and oceans. Such overuse potentially damages
ecosystems’ regenerative capacity. Locally, demand can
exceed biocapacity without depletion if resources can
be imported.
In 1961, humanity’s Ecological Footprint was at
about two thirds of global biocapacity; today humanity
is in ecological overshoot—requiring the equivalent of
1.5 planets to provide the renewable resources we use
and to absorb our carbon waste. Local overshoot has
occurred all through history, but global overshoot only
began in the mid-1970s. Overshoot cannot continue
indenitely; ultimately, productive ecosystems will
become depleted. Global productivity is further at risk
because of potential climate change, ocean acidica-
tion, and other consequences of the buildup of CO2 in
the biosphere.
Most nations demand more biocapacity than they
have available within their own borders. This means
they are liquidating their national ecological wealth,
relying through trade on the biocapacity of others,
or using the global commons as a carbon sink. This
increases the risk of volatile costs or supply disrup-
tions. For example, the Mediterranean region has a
rapidly widening ecological decit: in less than 50
years, demand for ecological resources and services has
nearly tripled, expanding its ecological decit by 230
percent. But it is not just high-income countries where
Ecological Footprints exceed biocapacity. The Philip-
pines has been in ecological decit since the 1960s. In
2008, people there demanded from nature twice the
country’s capacity to provide biological resources and
sequester carbon emissions.
The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Denmark,
and the United States have the largest per capita
footprints among countries with populations over 1
million. If everybody consumed like residents of these
countries, we would need more than four Earths. Other
nations, such as China, have lower
per capita footprints but are rapidly
pursuing consumption habits that
are trending in the direction of high-
income, high-footprint nations. And
although China’s footprint per person
is low, we would still need slightly
more than one Earth if everyone in
the world consumed at that level.
Despite relatively small per capita
Ecological Footprints, countries with
large populations, like India and China,
have signicant biocapacity decits
and large total Ecological Footprints,
similar to that of the United States.
—Global Footprint Network
Source: See endnote 4.
Box 4–1. What Is the Ecological Footprint?
Number of Earths Demanded
Global Ecological Footprint by Component, 1961–2008
1960 1970 1980 1990 20102000
World Biocapacity
Fishing Grounds
Built-Up Land
Grazing Land
42 | State of the World 2013
Comparing Fair Earth-Share and High-Consumption
Ecological Footprint studies reveal that the world is in ecological overshoot
by as much as 50 percent. The growth of the human enterprise today is
fueled in large part by the liquidation of natural capital, including essential
ecosystems, and the overfilling of waste sinks. In short, the human enter-
prise is exploiting natural systems faster than they can regenerate. Would a
truly intelligent species risk permanently disabling the very ecosystems that
sustain it for the increasingly questionable benefits of unequal growth?5
Ironically, the main perpetrators of this global experiment are the rela-
tively well educated 20 percent of the human population who live in high-
income consumer societies, including most of North America, Europe, Japan,
and Australia, along with consumer elites of low-income countries. Densely
populated, high-income countries typically exceed their domestic carrying
capacities by a factor of three to six or more and thus impose a growing bur-
den on other countries and the global commons. This wealthy minority of
the human family appropriates almost 80 percent of the world’s resources and
generates most of its carbon emissions from fossil fuels.6
To achieve sustainability—that is, to live within the ecological carrying
capacity of Earth—on average, people would have to live on the biologically
productive and assimilative capacity of just 1.7 gha per capita. (If, as good
stewards, we reserved more biocapacity solely for wild species, our Earth-
shares per person would be even smaller.) In this chapter we use this amount
of globally available per capita biocapacity as a starting point to consider the
implications of living with a more equitable distribution of Earth’s resourc-
es. In short, for policy and planning purposes, we consider 1.7 gha/per cap-
ita to be each person’s equitable or “fair Earth-share” of global biocapacity.
More than half the world’s population lives at or below a fair Earth-share.
These people are mostly in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. As Table 4–1
shows, such fair Earth-share societies enjoy comparable longevity but have
somewhat larger households and lower per capita calorie intake, meat con-
sumption, household energy use, vehicle ownership, and carbon dioxide
emissions than average world citizens. The differences between people living
at a fair Earth-share and those in high-income countries (which typically
need three planets) are much greater.7
The data for fair Earth-share societies used in this analysis are based on
Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Mali, the Philippines,
Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. While some of these countries stay within the
one-planet parameter due to low socioeconomic development (which also
explains lower life expectancy than in the high-consumption societies), oth-
ers—like Cuba and Ecuador—have high levels of development even with
Getting to One-Planet Living | 43
their modest incomes and ecological footprints. In fact, an average Cuban’s
life expectancy is equivalent to that of an average American (at 78 years).
(See Chapter 30.)8
The high-consumption societies used in this analysis are Australia,
Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Norway, Rus-
sia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While these
countries enjoy comparable levels of longevity, education, and quality of
life, people in North America, Australia, and the oil-producing states in the
Middle East tend to consume twice as much as their three-planet counter-
parts in other parts of the world. These comparisons show that beyond a
certain point, income and consumption have little effect on quality-of-life
outcomes compared with other sociocultural factors.
Learning to Live within the (Natural) Law
What might life look like for a high-income consumer society that decided
to get serious about sustainability and implement strategies to live on its
equitable share of Earth’s resources? While this answer will depend on spe-
cific geographic, climatic, and cultural realities, a sense of the magnitude of
change is available by looking at how one city could make this transition—
Vancouver, Canada, which has aspirations to be the “world’s greenest city.
The City of Vancouver proper (not the broader metropolitan area), in
Table 4–1. Comparing Fair Earth-Share, World Average, and High-Consumption Countries
Consumption Measures
Fair Earth-Share:
1 Planet
World Average:
1.5 Planets
3 Planets
(per person)
Daily calorie supply 2,424 2,809 3,383
Meat consumption (kilograms per year) 20 40 100
Living space (square meters) 8 10 34
People per household 5 4 3
Home energy use in gigajoules (per year) 8.4 12.6 33.5
Home energy use in kilowatt-hours (per year) 2,300 3,500 9,300
Motor vehicle ownership 0.004 0.1 0.5
Motor vehicle travel (kilometers per year) 582 2,600 6,600
Air travel (kilometers per year) 125 564 2,943
Carbon dioxide emissions (tons per year) 2 4 14
Life expectancy (years) 66 67 79
Source: See endnote 7.
44 | State of the World 2013
British Columbia, is home to approximately 600,000 people and covers
11,467 hectares. Using data compiled by the city, by the Metro-Vancouver
region, and by provincial, national, and international statistical agencies, the
city’s Ecological Footprint is conservatively estimated at 2,352,627 global
hectares, or 4.2 gha per person.9
The average Vancouver Ecological Footprint can be attributed to various
sectors as follows (see Figure 4–1): food (2.13 gha per person) accounts for
51 percent of the footprint, buildings (0.67 gha per person) account for 16
percent, transportation (0.81 gha per person) is 19 percent, consumables
(0.58 gha per person) are 14 percent of the footprint, and water use is less
than 1 percent.10
These data do not include con-
tributions from provincial and na-
tional government public services
(such as the treasury and military)
that take place outside the city
for the benefit of all Canadians.
Vancouver city staff estimate that
these services add an additional
18 percent to the per person eco-
footprint. This would be equiva-
lent to approximately 0.76 gha per
person, bringing Vancouver’s total
Ecological Footprint per person
to 4.96 global hectares. To achieve
one-planet living, the average Van-
couverite would need to reduce
his or her Ecological Footprint by
66 percent. Note, however, that this is still a minimum number. Ecological
Footprint estimates err on the side of caution because they cannot account
for elements of consumption and waste assimilation for which data are un-
available or for such things as the fact that much “appropriated” ecosystem
area is being degraded.11
Food represents half the footprint and includes cropland as well as car-
bon-sink land associated with processing, distribution, retailing, and con-
sumption. Although many people are concerned about the carbon emis-
sions associated with “food miles” (transporting food from farm to plate),
this accounts for less than 3 percent of the food-footprint component and is
mostly associated with imported fruits and vegetables. Animal protein pro-
duction, however, constitutes most of the food footprint (see Figure 4–2),
due mostly to cropland used to produce livestock feed.12
Transportation is the next largest contributor to the average Vancouver-
Figure 4–1. Summary of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint
Water, <1%
Consumables, 14%
Buildings, 16%
Source: Moore
Getting to One-Planet Living | 45
ite’s Ecolocial Footprint at 19 percent; personal automobile use accounts for
55 percent of this, followed by air travel at 17 percent. Buildings contrib-
ute 16 percent to the total Ecological Footprint. Operating energy (mostly
natural gas used for water heating and space conditioning) accounts for 80
percent of the buildings footprint and is split equally between the residential
and commercial-institutional sectors. The buildings component is smaller
than might be expected because 80 percent of Vancouver’s electricity is hy-
droelectric. Moreover, British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in North
America to introduce a carbon tax and require all public institutions to be
greenhouse-gas neutral in their operations.13
Fourteen percent of the Vancouver Ecological Footprint is attributable
to consumer products, with paper
accounting for 53 percent of this.
Fortunately, Vancouverites recycle
most of the paper they use (78
percent), reducing its potential
Ecological Footprint by almost
half. The material content of con-
sumer goods accounts for only 7
percent of the total quantity of en-
ergy and material used to produce
them; 91 percent of the Ecological
Footprint of consumer goods is
associated with the manufacturing
process and another 2 percent with
managing the products as wastes
at the end of their life cycle.14
Clearly, lifestyle choices have a
significant impact on our Ecologi-
cal Footprint. However, even if average Vancouverites followed a vegan diet;
avoided driving or flying and only walked, cycled, or used public transit;
lived in a passive solar house that used almost no fossil-based energy; and
cut their personal consumption by half, they could only reduce their per
capita Ecological Footprint by 44 percent (from 4.96 to 2.8 gha per capita).
That seems like an impossible challenge already—and yet it is still a full
global hectare beyond the one-planet threshold.15
That said, the City of Vancouver is willing to wrestle with this chal-
lenge, and in 2011 it launched its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, including
a goal to reduce the city’s Ecological Footprint 33 percent by 2020 and 66
percent by 2050. Actions in the plan span 10 areas: food, transportation,
buildings, economy, waste, climate change, water, access to nature, clean
air, and the Ecological Footprint. Indeed, almost all the planned actions
Figure 4–2. Food Component of Vancouver’s Ecological
Source: Moore
Fish, Meat,
and Eggs
Oils, Nuts,
and Legumes
Grains, 10%
Fruits and Vegetables, 10%
Stimulants, 2%
(coee, tea, sugar, cocoa)
Beverages, 1%
46 | State of the World 2013
contribute to the lighter footprint objective. Nevertheless, the plan falls
short of what would be required to achieve stated Ecological Footprint
reduction targets.16
Through the planning process, city staff explored various approaches,
including reducing consumption of high-impact foods (such as meat and
dairy products) by up to 20 percent, lowering consumption of new products
by up to 30 percent, and cutting the amount of waste sent to landfills and
incinerators in half. Note that Vancouver already recycles more than 50 per-
cent of its wastes, so Greenest City 2020 would achieve a total waste diversion
rate of up to 75 percent. Vehicle kilometers travelled would be reduced by
up to 20 percent and air travel by
up to 30 percent. Building energy
efficiency would be improved by
up to 30 percent, and all new con-
struction would be zero emissions
starting in 2020.17
Implementation of these ac-
tions is estimated to reduce Van-
couverites’ Ecological Footprints
by 20 percent. Even though the
changes in consumption and
waste production are substantial
(ranging from 20 to 50 percent),
this does not directly translate into
equivalent reductions in Ecologi-
cal Footprint. Take the following
comparison, for example. Meat
and dairy consumption accounts
for nearly 23 percent of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint (and 21 percent
of food consumed by weight). Reducing that by 20 percent translates into
an approximate 4.5 percent reduction in the total Ecological Footprint. In-
deed, this is one of the most effective actions that could be taken to achieve
one-planet living. Municipal solid waste, on the other hand, only accounts
for 1 percent of Vancouver’s total Ecological Footprint. So cutting the total
tonnage of municipal waste in half has an almost insignificant impact on
the Ecological Footprint (assuming there are no upstream impacts on the
supply chain of energy and materials used to produce consumer products).18
Getting to one-planet living therefore requires strategic consideration
of which lifestyle changes can have the most significant impacts. Unfortu-
nately, in the final Action Plan some of the actions that would have the great-
est impact—such as reducing meat and dairy consumption—were omitted,
largely because their implementation relied on people’s voluntary actions
Jennie Moore
Bicycling infrastructure on Clark Street in Vancouver.
Getting to One-Planet Living | 47
that could not, and perhaps should not, be regulated by government.19
The question remains: even if citizens were willing to do all they could,
how would Vancouver shave another global hectare off the average Ecologi-
cal Footprint? Recall that senior government services from which all Cana-
dians benefit account for an estimated 0.76 gha per capita of Vancouver’s
Ecological Footprint. Changes in senior government policy and practice
are therefore also needed and could include efforts toward demilitariza-
tion, an emphasis on population health through disease prevention, and a
careful public examination of existing rules, regulations, tax incentives, and
assumptions about whether the current administration of public funds is
aligned with the goals of a sustainable society.
These are bold measures that move past the current emphasis on effi-
ciency gains across society. The latter would, of course, still be needed—in-
deed, there is considerable room for additional energy/material efficiency
gains across the entire building stock and in manufacturing; farmers and
food processors could also greatly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and
inputs (fertilizers and pesticides, for instance). One way to induce effi-
ciency gains is to eliminate “perverse subsidies” (including tax breaks to
highly profitable oil and gas producers and subsidies to farmers to produce
certain food products, such as corn) that facilitate unsustainable industrial
practices and generate false price signals in consumer markets. If neces-
sary, this should be accompanied by pollution charges or taxes to address
market failures (that is, to internalize negative externalities) and to ensure
that market prices reflect the true social costs of production. Policy align-
ment at the national and provincial government levels to support all such
initiatives is essential.20
A second challenge involves engaging civil society with political leaders
to advance a paradigm of sufficiency, meaning a shared social commitment
to consuming enough for a good life but not so much that total throughput
exceeds critical biophysical limits. Such a new consumer paradigm is also
necessary to avoid the “rebound effect, in which people spend savings from
efficiency on other things—canceling the gains. A survey of 65 studies in
North America found that this rebound is responsible for 10–30 percent
of expenditures in sectors that account for most energy and material con-
sumption: food, transportation, and buildings. Indeed, total resource and
energy demand in most of the world’s industrial countries has increased in
absolute terms over the past 40 years despite efficiency gains of 50 percent in
materials and 30 percent in energy use.21
Different people will make different lifestyle choices and changes as re-
quired. If one-planet living is the goal, these choices will obviously have to
entail more than recycling programs and stay-at-home vacations. For suc-
cess, the world’s nations will have to commit to whole new development
48 | State of the World 2013
strategies with elements ranging from public re-education to ecological fis-
cal reform, all within a negotiated global sustainability treaty.22
While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to detail elements of such
an economic transformation, others have tried. In Factor Five, for example,
Ernst von Weizsäcker and colleagues attempt numerous sector studies to
demonstrate how an 80 percent re-
duction in resource intensity could
be achieved in agriculture, trans-
portation, buildings, and selected
manufacturing industries. They
show that many of the technolo-
gies needed for one-planet living
already exist, but in the absence of
global agreements and enforceable
regulations, there is insufficient
incentive for corporate, govern-
ment, and consumer uptake. In a
global economy, states will not act
alone for fear of losing competitive
ground. And even international
cooperation or agreements do not
ensure success: although some
global initiatives (such as the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion) have
succeeded, others (such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change) have suc-
cumbed to shorter-term economic considerations.23
What Lies Ahead
Despite the pressing need for cultural transformation, prospects for real
progress toward socially just ecological sustainability are not encourag-
ing. Global society remains committed to the progress myth and to un-
constrained economic growth. Indeed, the international community views
sheer material growth rather than income redistribution as the only feasible
solution to chronic poverty.
In Our Common Future, the World Commission on Environment and
Development recognized peoples’ reticence to contemplate serious mea-
sures for wealth redistribution. Such an approach might follow a strategy
of contraction and convergence, during which industrial countries reduced
their energy and material throughput to allow room for developing coun-
tries to grow. Instead, the Commission advocated for “more rapid econom-
ic growth in both industrial and developing countries,” albeit predicated
on global cooperation to develop more equitable trade relationships and
noting that “rapid growth combined with deteriorating income distribu-
Jennie Moore
A parking lot adapted for use as an urban farm, Vancouver.
Getting to One-Planet Living | 49
tion may be worse than slower growth combined with redistribution in
favour of the poor.24
Since that report came out in 1987, economic growth has far outpaced
population growth, so there are more dollars per person circulating in the
world today than ever before. But while some developing states have pros-
pered in the increasingly global economy—such as Singapore, South Korea,
China, and India—others have not. Moreover, income disparity is increas-
ing both among and within countries; even in the richest nations, lower-
income groups have seen real wages stagnate or decline. It is now apparent
that growth alone is failing as a solution to poverty. Most of the human
family is still materially deprived, consuming less than its just share of eco-
nomic output. This has led to renewed recognition—at least in progres-
sive circles—that policy measures explicitly designed to spread the benefits
of economic prosperity are more effective than increasing gross domestic
product for alleviating material poverty.25
Overall, the combined evidence of widening income gaps and accelerat-
ing ecological change suggests that the mainstream global community still
pays little more than lip service to the sustainability ideal. The growth econ-
omy, now dressed in green, remains the dominant social construct. Rio+20,
the latest U.N. conference on economy and development, essentially equated
sustainable development with sustained economic growth and produced no
binding commitments for anyone to do anything. So it is that 40 years after
the first global conference on humanity and the environment (Stockholm
in 1972) and 20 years after the first world summit on the environment and
development (Rio in 1992), the policy focus remains on economic growth—
while ecological decline accelerates and social disparity worsens.
Discouraging, yes, but let us recognize that the notion of perpetual
growth is just a social construct, initiated as a transition strategy to reboot
the economy after World War II. It has now run its course. What society has
constructed it can theoretically deconstruct and replace. The time has come
for a new social contract that recognizes humanity’s collective interest in
designing a better form of prosperity for a world in which ecological limits
are all too apparent and the growing gap between rich and poor is morally
unconscionable. Our individual interests have converged with our collective
interests. What more motivation should civil society need to get on with the
task at hand?26
The major challenges to sustainability are in the social and cultural do-
mains. The global task requires nothing less than a rewrite of our prevailing
growth-oriented cultural narrative. As Jared Diamond emphasized in Col-
lapse, societies can consciously “choose to fail or succeed,” and global society
today is in the unique position of knowing the dismal fates of earlier cultures
that made unfortunate choices. We can also consider the prospects of those
50 | State of the World 2013
who acted differently. Indeed, in contrast to the fate of Easter Islanders, the
people of Tikopia—living on a small South Pacific island—made successful
choices to reduce their livestock populations when confronted with signs of
ecological deterioration. Today the Tikopian culture serves as an example
of conscious self-management in the face of limited resources. Of course,
Tikopia has the advantage of being a small population with a homogenous
culture on a tiny island where the crises were evident to all and affected
everyone. Contrast that with today’s heterogeneous global culture charac-
terized by various disparities (tribal, national, linguistic, religious, political,
and so on) and the anticipation of uneven impacts.27
Meanwhile, our best science is telling us that we are doing no better than
previous failures: staying our present course means potential catastrophe.
The (un)sustainability conundrum therefore creates a clear choice for peo-
ple to exercise their remaining democratic freedoms in the name of societal
survival. Difficult though it may be, ordinary citizens owe it to themselves
and the future to engage with their leaders and insist that they begin the
national planning processes and draft the international accords needed to
implement options and choices for an economically secure, ecologically
stable, socially just future.
386 | Notes
2011, amended 2012); Statistics Sweden, System of Environmental and Economic Accounts, CO2 Emission per
Income Deciles 2000 (Stockholm: 2000); China from Jie Li and Yan Wang, “Income, Lifestyle and Household Car-
bon Footprints (Carbon-Income Relationship), a Micro-level Analysis on China’s Urban and Rural Household
Surveys,Environmental Economics, vol. 1, no. 2 (2010).
Chapter 4. Getting to One-Planet Living
1. Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking Press, 2005).
2. U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Economic and Social Survey 2011 (New York: United
Nations, 2011), p. ix.
3. Donella Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972); Lance Gunderson and C. S.
Holling, eds., Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (Washington, DC: Island
Press, 2002); Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis (Washington, DC:
Island Press, 2005).
4. WWF et al., Living Planet Report 2010 (Gland, Switzerland: WWF, 2010); WWF, Living Planet Report 2012
(Gland, Switzerland: WWF, 2012); Mathis Wackernagel and William E. Rees, Our Ecological Footprint (Gabriola
Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 1996). Box 4–1 from Global Footprint Network, National Footprint
Accounts, 2011 Edition (Oakland, CA: 2012), and from
5. Wackernagel and Rees, op. cit. note 4; William E. Rees, “Ecological Footprint: Concept of,” in S. A. Levin, ed. in
chief, Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press, forthcoming); WWF et al., Living
Planet Report 2010, op. cit. note 4; WWF, Living Planet Report 2012, op. cit. note 4.
6. Anup Shah, “Poverty Facts and Stats,” citing World Development Indicators, World Bank, 2008, at www.glo; William E. Rees, “Ecological Footprints and Biocapacity: Essential
Elements in Sustainability Assessment,” in J. Dewulf and H. Van Langenhove, eds., Renewables-based Technology:
Sustainability Assessment (Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley and Sons, 2006); WWF et al., Living Planet Report 2010,
op. cit. note 4.
7. Table 4–1 from the following: Global Footprint Network, at
/page/world_footprint; U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, “Nutrition Country Profiles,” at
/ag/agn/nutrition/profiles_by_country_en.stm; Peter Menzel, Material World (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books,
1994); World Bank, “Indicators,” at; International Civil Aviation Organization, “Spe-
cial Report: Annual Review of Civil Aviation,ICAO Journal, vol. 61, no. 5 (2005); Worldmapper, at; World Resources Institute, “EarthTrends: Environmental Information,” at; WWF,
“Footprint Interactive Graph,” at Global
average statistics for living space and motor vehicle travel are estimated assuming two thirds of the global popula-
tion consumes at the one-planet level and one third consumes at the three-planet level.
8. Life expectancy from World Bank, op. cit. note 7.
9. Land area data from “Understanding Vancouver, at;
2006 population from Statistics Canada, “Census Data: Community Profiles: Vancouver, British Columbia (Census
Metropolitan Area)” (Ottawa).
10. Figure 4–1 from Jennie Moore, Getting Serious About Sustainability: Exploring the Potential for One-planet
Living in Vancouver, submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for PhD degree (Vancouver: School of Com-
munity and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia, forthcoming).
11. City of Vancouver, Greenest City 2020 Action Plan (Vancouver: 2011), pp. 48–53.
12. Figure 4–2 from Moore op. cit. note 10.
13. Moore, op. cit. note 10; British Columbia (The Province of), Carbon Neutral BC, A First for North America,
press release (Victoria: 30 June 2011).
14. Moore, op. cit. note 10.
15. Ibid.
Notes | 387
16. City of Vancouver, op. cit. note 11.
17. City of Vancouver, Greenest City 2020 Action Plan (GCAP): Council Report (Vancouver: 2011), pp. 110–11.
18. Ibid.
19. City of Vancouver op. cit. note 11.
20. Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2011); Norman Myers and
Jennifer Kent, Perverse Subsidies: How Tax Dollars Can Undercut the Environment and the Economy (Washington,
DC: Island Press, 2001); Ernst von Weizsäcker, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins, Factor Four (London: Earthscan,
21. William E. Rees, “Globalization and Sustainability: Conflict or Convergence,Bulletin of Science, Technology
and Society, August 2002, pp. 249–68; Ernst von Weizsäcker et al., Factor 5 (London: Earthscan, 2009); U.N. Depart-
ment of Economic and Social Affairs, op. cit. note 2.
22. William E. Rees, “The Way Forward: Survival 2100,Solutions, June 2012; William E. Rees, “What’s Blocking
Sustainability? Human Nature, Cognition and Denial,Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, fall 2010; Giddens,
op. cit. note 20; von Weizsäcker, Lovins, and Lovins, op. cit. note 20; World Commission on Environment and
Development, Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
23. Von Weizsäcker et al., op. cit. note 21; U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, op. cit. note 2.
24. World Commission on Environment and Development, op. cit. note 22, pp. 52, 89.
25. Emmanuel Saez, Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (updated with 2009 and
2010 estimates) (Berkeley: University of California, 2012); U.N. Development Programme, Human Development
Report 2010 (New York: 2010); U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, op. cit. note 2; U.N. Department
of Economic and Social Affairs, World Economic and Social Survey 2006 (New York: United Nations, 2006).
26. Rees, “What’s Blocking Sustainability?” op. cit. note 22; Rees, “The Way Forward, op. cit. note 22.
27. Diamond, op. cit. note 1.
Chapter 5. Sustaining Freshwater and Its Dependents
1. Figure of 250 million is approximate, per Joel E. Cohen, How Many People Can the Earth Support? (New York:
W. W. Norton & Company, 1995), p. 77; 7 billion from U. S. Census Bureau, “U.S. & World Population Clocks, at; gross world product estimate for 2011 from U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency, The World Factbook, at
2. For analysis and sources, see later text.
3. Figure of 800 million from UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO), Progress on Drinking Water and
Sanitation: 2012 Update (New York: United Nations, 2012).
4. Igor A. Shiklomanov, World Water Resources: A New Appraisal and Assessment for the 21st Century (Paris:
UNESCO, 1998). Box 5–1 based on National Academy of Sciences, Water Science and Technology Board, Desalina-
tion: A National Perspective (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2008); 15,000 figure from Quirin Schier-
meier, “Purification with a Pinch of Salt,Nature, 20 March 2008, pp. 260–61.
5. Sandra L. Postel, Gretchen D. Daily, and Paul R. Ehrlich, “Human Appropriation of Renewable Fresh Water,
Science, 9 February 1996, pp. 785–88.
6. Figures of 19 percent, 42 percent, and 15,600 cubic kilometers from ibid., adjusted for rise in water captured
by dams to 10,800 cubic kilometers, from B. F. Chao, Y. H. Wu, and Y. S. Li, “Impact of Artificial Reservoir Water
Impoundment on Global Sea Level,Science, 11 April 2008, pp. 212–14, and assumption that 64 percent of this
storage capacity is actively used in the regulation of runoff, per Postel, Daily, and Ehrlich, op. cit. note 5; amount
used by each sector from United Nations, Water in a Changing World: United Nations World Water Development
Report, 3rd ed. (Paris: UNESCO, 2009).
7. Figure of 82 percent from U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Aquastat Database, at
Advance Praise for
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Is Sustainability Still Possible?
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Liberation, One World, and e Life You Can Save
Sustainability gets plenty of lip service, but the relentless worsening of key environmental trends
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to address the challenge.
THE WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE, in this edition of the celebrated State of the World series,
takes an unflinching look at what the data say about the prospects for achieving true sustainability,
what we should be doing now to make progress toward it, and how we might cope if we fail to do so.
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... The third research article also concerns Panama City, in this case looking for examples in nature that might help Panama City's green development. As noted above, the global increase in urbanisation must be accompanied by finding ways to lessen the environmental impact of cities, since research using the concept of the ecological footprint has shown that city footprints tend to be larger than their rural and national counterparts [13,14]. In response, Quintero, Zarzavilla, Tejedor-Flores, Mora, and Austin have developed a reference framework based on biomimicry to be used to regenerate Panama City so as to relieve its burden on the natural environment. ...
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Nature has been the source of inspiration for the design and construction of buildings in various ways and at different levels of complexity [...]
... Although politically contentious, this has led to discussions about 'fair shares' or 'shrink and share' schemes to reconcile the need to address sustainability alongside current and historical inequalities within and across societies (Rees & Moore, 2013 (Raworth, 2017). These tools set limits and parameters within which economic activity can take place, and tie-in with the 'strong' sustainable consumption agenda, which calls for changes not only in patterns of consumption, but importantly, in absolute reductions in consumption levels in industrialised countries (Fuchs & Lorek, 2005;Lorek & Fuchs, 2013;Anantharaman, 2018). ...
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Non-technical summaryScaling sustainable behaviour change means addressing politics, power and social justice to tackle the uneven distribution of responsibility and agency for climate action, within and between societies. This requires a holistic understanding of behaviour that bridges the ‘individual’ and ‘systemic’, and acknowledges the need for absolute emissions reductions, especially by high-consuming groups, and in key ‘hotspots’ of polluting activity, namely, travel, diet and housing. It counters the dominant focus on individuals and households, in favour of a differentiated, but collective approach, driven by bold climate governance and social mobilisation to reorient institutions and behaviour towards just transitions, sufficiency and wellbeing. Technical summarySustainable behaviour change has been rising up the climate policy agenda as it becomes increasingly clear that far-reaching changes in lifestyles will be required, alongside shifts in policy, service provision and technological innovation, if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global heating. In this paper, we review different approaches to behaviour change from economics, psychology, sociology and political economy, to explore the neglected question of scalability, and identify critical points of leverage that challenge the dominant emphasis on individual responsibility. Although politically contentious and challenging to implement, in order to achieve the ambitious target of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees, we propose urgent structural interventions are necessary at all points within an ecosystem of transformation, and highlight five key spheres for action: a ‘strong’ sustainability pathway; pursuing just transitions (via changes to work, income and infrastructure); rebalancing political institutions to expand spaces for citizens vis-à-vis elite incumbents; focusing on high polluting actors and activities; and supporting social mobilisation. We call for a move away from linear and ‘shallow’ understandings of behaviour change, dominated by traditional behavioural and mainstreaming approaches, towards a ‘deep’, contextualised and dynamic view of scaling as a transformative process of multiple feedbacks and learning loops between individuals and systems, engaged in a mutually reinforcing ‘spiral of sustainability’. Social media summary boxScaling behaviour change means addressing power and politics: challenging polluter elites and providing affordable and sustainable services for all.
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This is modified late draft, published with revisions as: Barker T. and Fisher J. (2019). Ecosystem health as the basis for human health. Chapter 19 in Selendy J.M.H (editor), Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Changing Environment: Challenges, Interventions and Preventive Measures. Second edition, Wiley-Blackwell and Horizon International, Hoboken and Chichester.
Given the predicted increase in the human population housed in cities, this chapter considers further what type of built environment should be constructed now, and how this relates to both resources and the natural environment using the measure of the ecological footprint (EF). The problem is that urbanisation comes with an increase in the use of natural resources, not least because high-rise buildings are more resource intensive than the equivalent floor area of low- and medium-rise buildings. The relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and density is explored, showing that an increase in density is not the simple answer to reducing greenhouse gases. As food forms a significant part of the personal EF, the issue of food and urban living is addressed. The investigation into EF and urban living shows that it is wealth that has a very big influence on environmental impact, not the urban form. Looking at Cuba as one of the few countries living with a fair share EF shows that a policy of urbanisation was not pursued but rather one of regional development as the focus on city living was viewed as a capitalist ideal. The chapter ends by suggesting increasing wealth goes with increasing environmental impact, which appears to be a diminishing return on the current investment in cities.
Since a link has been made between physical growth and the collapse of early empires, this chapter examines the issue of growth and its link with collapse through increasing complexity. Definitions of growth are examined noting that in the natural world, unchecked growth is problematic. There is a focus on economic growth and the need to rethink modern economic growth to take account of the physical and biological limits of the planet. How and why growth occurs in the built environment is discussed and the urban patterns that are caused by growth are introduced. The inextricable link between growth in human population, growth in economies and growth of the built environment is explained, suggesting that although design can produce zero energy buildings and low energy suburbs, it cannot tackle change without a fundamental change in attitudes to growth in other spheres. The chapter ends by discussing diversity as a key to making a resilient future built environment.
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Nowadays, we are facing a global change associated with the rapid population growth and natural resources demand, whose impacts are accumulated in space and during the time. Therefore, humanity could be identified as Planet's Ecological Bigfoot. The anthropopressure disturbed the Earth's natural regulatory capacity, which could be noticed by the unavailability of freshwater, irregular temperatures, or interrupted biogeochemical flows. Moreover, the growth of population is expected, as well as the sprawl of urbanized areas, increasing demand for living space, food, and humans' ecological footprint. Therefore, the aim of the study was the implementation of the environmental carrying capacity (ECC) approach for more sustainable spatial management, especially in the context of developing residential areas in the city-region. The research evaluates the spatial policy established by the municipalities of the city and its surroundings and presents alternative scenarios of residential areas development. The alternative scenarios were built using excluded and restricted environmental zones to protect productive ecosystems. The impact of residential areas designed in spatial documents and scenarios has been assessed using the carbon footprint (CF) and biocapacity (BC) indicators within the environmental carrying capacity (ECC) framework. The lifestyle archetypes of the city's residents and its suburban zone were used as the main input for the assessment of CF and the natural areas required to assimilate human consumption. The comparison of CF and BC allowed verifying the consumed vs. available resources and to quantify the state of the environment. First of all, the research indicated the potential areas for the future development of human settlements. Secondly, the potential number of inhabitants in residential areas was assessed. Furthermore, the impact of inhabitants was quantified using the ECC approach. Finally, the surface of natural areas required for CF assimilation was assessed. The proposed approach could be relevant for spatial management, spatial policy evaluation, and modeling. It could provide a management tool and policy instrument for the sustainable development of human settlements. Moreover, it proposes implementation of environmental zones for allocation of land-use for housing purpose in a more sustainable manner, which is currently not used within the ECC assessment.
This study examines changes in some key indicators among 66 countries on six continents over a 56-year period, to compare the power of economic growth to improve human health and income distribution with its tendency to degrade the natural environment. The results indicate that growth depletes and pollutes nature far more than it benefits society. This suggests that public policy should shift toward enhancement of individual and social well-being in ways more direct and effective, and less ecologically damaging, than reliance on overall growth in gross domestic product. I illustrate this implication with a degrowth scenario for the United States to 2050 that draws on the empirical results for the period 1961 to 2016. And I consider certain reforms in the management and governance of organizations to implement such a scenario.
This paper explores the ‘regime of practices’ that are put in place when novel forms of sustainable living in the countryside are proposed that nevertheless contrast with established planning rationalities of urban containment and countryside protection. The article uses Foucault’s concept of governmentality to explore the innovative and arguably progressive One Planet Development policy in Wales. The paper focuses in particular on the Ecological Footprint and its associated data and monitoring requirements as a way of demonstrating One Planet Living. The analysis highlights the tensions between enabling One Planet Development and the governance of individuals’ lives and behaviours.
Ecosystem processes and the biodiversity that supports them are the basis for all ecological functions. All of human society makes use of ecological functions that regulate resources such as air, water, temperature, and flows of materials that we take for granted; provide food and natural resources that we use in building, clothes, and the basis for chemistry and medicines; and make life meaningful in terms of education, health, emotional connection, and aesthetics. It is well known now that ecological damage through the impacts of human activity has very serious consequences for our well‐being, health, and survival. Imbalances in natural systems due to disturbance, degradation, or destruction of natural ecosystems have impacts on predators and prey species, including disease organisms and the capacity of ecological systems to recover from damage. This chapter discusses the intimate and multifaceted connections between species, ecosystem integrity, nature's contributions to human survival and flourishing, and the increasingly important problem of matching policy decisions to both economic and ecological survival. If civilization is to sustainably meet the multiple pressures of climate change, biodiversity loss, and increasing global population while also ensuring quality of life and health for all, we will need to find a way of replacing profitability with sustainability as the bottom line of our economic existence.
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Unsustainability is an old problem - human societies have collapsed with disturbing regularity throughout history. I argue that a genetic predisposition for unsustainability is encoded in certain human physiological, social and behavioral traits that once conferred survival value but are now maladaptive. A uniquely human capacity - indeed, necessity - for elaborate cultural myth-making reinforces these negative biological tendencies. Our contemporary, increasingly global myth, promotes a vision of world development centered on unlimited economic expansion fuelled by more liberalized trade. This myth is not only failing on its own terms but places humanity on a collision course with biophysical reality - our ecological footprint already exceeds the human carrying capacity of Earth. Sustainability requires that we acknowledge the primitive origins of human ecological dys-function and seize conscious control of our collective destiny. The final triumph of enlightened reason and mutual compassion over scripted determinism would herald a whole new phase in human evolution.
Ecological footprint analysis (EFA) quantifies the ecosystem area required to support specified human populations. EFA shows that rich countries use two- to five- times their per capita equitable ‘Earth-shares’; that the ecofootprints of high-income countries generally exceed their domestic biocapacities; and that the human enterprise as a whole is in a state of overshoot. The human ecofootprint is a major driver of biodiversity loss – biocapacity dedicated to humans is irreversibly unavailable to other species. Global sustainability requires that the already rich decrease their ecofootprints to create the ecological space needed both for nonhuman species and for justifiable growth in impoverished countries.
Techno-industrial society and modern cities as presently conceived are inherently unsustainable. This conclusion flows from the energy and material dynamics of growing cities interpreted in light of the second law of thermodyna­mics. In second law terms, cities are self-organizing, far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures whose “self-organization” is utterly dependent on access to abundant energy and material resources. Cities are also open, growing, dependent subsystems of the materially-closed nongrowing ecosphere—they produce themselves and grow by feeding on energy and matter extracted from their host ecosystems. Indeed, high-income consumer cities are concentrated nodes of material consumption and waste production that parasitize large areas of productive ecosystems and waste sinks lying far outside the cities. The latter constitute the cities’ true “ecological footprints.” In effect, thermodynamic law dictates that cities can increase their own local structure and complexity (negentropy) only by increasing the disorder and randomness (entropy) in their host system, the ecosphere. The problem is that anthropogenic degradation now exceeds ecospheric regeneration and threatens to undermine the very urban civilization causing it. To achieve sustainability, global society must rebalance production and consumption, abandon the growth ethic, relocalize our economies and increase urban-regional self-reliance, all of which fly in the face of prevailing global development ideology.
A new understanding of complex systems, and in particular ecosystems, is emerging (Kay, 1984, 1997; Holling, 1986; Kay et al., 1994, 1999). The hierarchical nature of these systems requires that they be studied from different types of perspectives and at different scales of examination. There is no correct perspective. Rather a diversity of perspectives is required for understanding. Ecosystems are self-organizing. This means that their dynamics are largely a function of positive and negative feedback loops. This precludes that linear causal mechanical explanations of ecosystem dynamics will suffice. In addition emergence and surprise are normal phenomena in systems dominated by feedback loops. Inherent uncertainty and limited predictability are inescapable consequences of these system phenomena. Such systems organize about attractors. Even when the environmental situation changes, the system’s feedback loops tend to maintain its current state. However, when ecosystem change does occur, it can be very rapid and even catastrophic. When precisely the change will occur, and what state the system will change to, are often not predictable. Often, in a given situation, there are several possible ecological states (attractors), that are equivalent. Which state the ecosystem currently occupies is a function of its history. There is not a “correct” preferred state for the ecosystem. This enhanced understanding of ecosystems, as complex systems, forms the backdrop for elaboration, in this paper, of the concept of ecological integrity.
At the beginning of the 21st century imports of agricultural and food commodities have become a major part of many nations' food baskets. Indeed the global food system has several merits for nations, businesses and individual consumers well-being. However, as increasing evidence suggests that we are approaching an era of climate change and scarcity of cheap energy sources the sustainability of that system must be examined. One part of any food commodity chain is its 'food miles' - the distance the commodity travels from point of production to point of consumption, the required energy and resulting emissions. This paper presents a 1 year 'snapshot' of Canada's total import related food miles. It presents an analysis of the distance imported foods traveled from around the world to major points of consumption in Canada and documents the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions related to those imports. It presents both a macro scale picture of the equivalent emissions related to transportation of imported food and a micro scale picture which focuses on specific commodities consumed in various parts of the country. It then discusses policy implications for food sustainability. Overall the research highlights that about 30% of the agricultural and food commodities consumed in Canada are imported, resulting in 'food miles' of over 61 billion tonnes km, leading to annual emissions of 3.3 million metric tonnes of CO2. Of the various agriculture and food commodities studied, fruits and vegetables had the highest food miles related ;emissions.
Humanity now uses 26 percent of total terrestrial evapotranspiration and 54 percent of runoff that is geographically and temporally accessible. Increased use of evapotranspiration will confer minimal benefits globally because most land suitable for rain-fed agriculture is already in production. New dam construction could increase accessible runoff by about 10 percent over the next 30 years, whereas population is projected to increase by more than 45 percent during that period.