Q&A with Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director, Global Footprint Network
By Alejandro Litovsky, Volans
Humans are the most successful species on the planet, but are using more resources than the Earth can provide. The Global Footprint Network was established in 2003 to address this overshoot, by providing ways of measuring human demand on the Earth through the use of the Ecological Footprint — a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.
The Ecological Footprint is a data-driven metric that tells us how close we are to living within the means of planet Earth – or whether we are running an ‘ecological overshoot’. 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. Global Footprint Network provides the scientific data necessary to drive large-scale, social change.
GFN works with cities, nations, international agencies, leading business, scientists, NGOs, academics and a network of 100+ global partners on six continents. It is committed to advancing the relevance and use of the Footprint in the world, applying it to practical projects and sparking a global dialogue about the desirability of a one-planet future.
GFN’s aspired to a future where ministers get as worried about growing ecological deficits as they fret already about skyrocketing unemployment or inflation; and where human demand on nature is monitored as closely as the stock market. GFN works for the time when designers shape products, buildings, and cities that have one-planet Footprints.
Q: Why should GFN be important to decision-makers?
A: The 21st century will be defined by ecological overshoot and humanity’s ability to deal with it productively. In a severely resource constrained world, those countries that understand the risk, and adapt themselves early on will be the winners, since adaptation takes preparation considering the longevity of stocks: our infrastructure, populations, and industrial plants with set energy efficiencies. Hence, a good understanding of a nation’s demand (or “Footprint”) on – and availability of – biocapacity become crucial metrics for securing a country’s success.
Because financial managers and policy-makers are largely resource-illiterate, the current financial crisis is leading to rather disastrous recovery plans. Even Obama’s $800 billion plan only contains $50 billion so-called ‘green economy investments’. First of all, anything non-green is building traps and needs to be de-constructed in a few decades. We need stimulus packages to accelerate sustainability rather than to repeat the mistakes of the past. We also need to look at what is called “green” and see: “is it green enough?” Not for moral and esthetic or fundamentalist reasons, but pragmatically: Are these investments realizing the highest possible social returns on investment?
Q: What are the biggest barriers you face in scaling up the impact of Global Footprint Network?
A: The biggest limitation still is that many countries and their administrations do not recognize the resource risk. If a country is ill prepared for a resource-constrained world, a significant portion of its GDP is in jeopardy.
Instead, many countries perceive even climate issues to be merely a moral question, not a key concern –or a survival issue. Many international agencies and governments are far too timid in engaging. Still, addressing climate issues in isolation from other resources is a strategic mistake. We are moving into a ‘peak everything’ situation; A crisis of water AND food AND climate AND fisheries AND biodiversity AND oil AND etc.