The ecological footprint model (EF) has to do with other demands but carbon/CO2 is the main element by far (referred to as energy demands by Rees). In Canada fully 58% of the EF estimate is allocated to energy (carbon sink) and this is typical of the developed world estimates (see Eco-Footprint Analysis: Tracking (Un)Sustainability by Bill Rees http://policyresearch.gc.ca/doclib/4_Rees.pdf ).
Your comments, “the overshoot of carrying capacity began as soon as humans began cultivation agriculture….(and) environmental destruction that has been escalating for the last 10,000 years”, express something of the ideological themes that underpin this EF model and the sustainability thinking related to it. Yes, there is some science present in the mix of EF thinking but this is often overwhelmed by the ideological thrust of modern environmentalism that also colors EF analysis.
I was a student at a UBC grad program in the early 90s when Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel (one of his PhD students) were constructing this EF model at the School of Community and Regional Planning where Rees was Director. Bill often presented tidbits of his ideological leanings in classroom discussions. This past year (2008) I had an extensive discussion with Bill re his model.
My concerns with the model have to do with Rees’s contention (as with yours) that the human enterprise is degrading/destroying the environment. As evidence of this degradation, Bill refers repeatedly to a litany of disasters which he claims show how humanity is destroying nature and the natural resource base on which all life depends. His list is as follows (see above article by Rees and here are some of my responses to his litany):
Climate change- Which climate change? The present cooling period which once again calls into question the CO2/warming relationship and the anthropogenic influence on climate?
Ozone depletion- Other scientists (see James Marusek’s The Origin of the Ozone Hole- Natural or Anthropological at galaxyinternet.net ) argue that the ozone layer increases and decreases naturally and is unrelated to human activity.
Sea level rise- What sea level rise? A similar rate of sea level rise has been occurring since the end of the last glaciation some 10,000 years ago (about 120 meters).
Deforestation- What deforestation? Over the past six decades Earth’s forest cover has remained fairly stable at about 30% of land area (see FAO Yearbooks for the best and only source of credible data). In fact, there was actually an increase in forest cover between 1949-94 from some 40 million square kilometers to some 43 million square kilometers and this during the time that we were told publicly that Earth’s forests were disappearing.
Fish stock collapses- a favorite element in Rees’ litany. But you cannot extrapolate a few isolated incidents out to generalize the situation of the entire world fishery. FAO data on fisheries is quite hopeful. Overall ocean catch is decreasing and farmed fish production is increasing.
And then species extinctions- I have pointed out to Bill that his figures (17,000 extinctions per year in one article) are grossly exaggerated. The famous 1992 IUCN study on extinctions (summarized by Julian Simon in Scarcity or Abundance) revealed absolutely no evidence of any extinctions above historical rates of 1-2 per year. It also challenged environmentalist’s assumptions behind species loss (a rate of loss related to loss of primary forest cover that did not recognize such things as species adaptability to secondary habitat). And what about the periods of glaciation that have massively changed the surface of the Earth over the past 2 million years, much more than humans have ever impacted nature. Species have adapted and remained fairly stable (numbers of species) over this period by moving north and south over continents and up and down mountain slopes.
And further on the forest resource- remember that since 1949 the human population has gone from 2.5 billion to over 6 billion and GDP (consumption) has increased immensely over the same time period yet forest cover has remained stable (actually increased) over this time. According to EF predictions we should have exhausted forest resources. But we didn’t because we are learning to use resources more efficiently and sustainably.
I believe it was the World Resources Institute that, despite their typical alarmism regarding forests, noted that there were only two current areas (“hotspots”) of forest devastation- one in Central Africa and another in a state in Brazil.
So are we really devastating nature? What does the evidence show? Here we confront the ideology that drives much contemporary environmentalism. Is humanity destroying nature or changing elements of it to new uses such as agriculture. Is this really degradation or just change, and beneficial change? What are the values, beliefs, and science that apply here?
Wilfred Beckerman (Green Colored Glasses) discusses some of the differing values that are applied in regard to nature. And which values should take preeminence and to what extent? Some people (personal aesthetics) want a world covered in wilderness. To them any human engagement of nature is destruction and devastation. To others, human engagement of nature and changing wilderness to other uses is simply progress.
So many issues arise here. The value of humanity in relation to other species. Are we just another species deserving of no special rights to natural resources than any other species? Alston Chase (In A Dark Wood) traces the various ideas that contribute to modern environmental ideology, including the synthesis of American nature religion with German metaphysics: the holism that views individuals as only parts of a larger system with no independent standing. He also notes the environmental antipathy to values of humanism, anti-capitalism, anti-materialism, anti-private property, anti-technology, anti-consumerism, anti-urban living, nature worship, a belief in the superiority of primitive culture, a desire to return to the land, faith in organic farming, and a program to create nature reserves (this list is from his book In a Dark Wood, p.129). J. E. de Steiguer has also traced various contributing sources of ideas in The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought.
My point is that we need to challenge this idea of the primacy of nature (wilderness) over all other considerations. Personal aesthetics play a big role here.
And is nature inherently wise (GAIA, Mother Nature) and humanity corrupt and destructive? Or, as Julian Simon and Greg Easterbrook argue (The Ultimate Resource and A Moment on the Earth), does humanity bring a much needed intelligence to a natural world that has too long been shaped by random, dumb, and blind forces that have led to many dead ends and too much destructiveness (untamed natural forces that produce disasters, diseases, parasites, toxins, massive species extinctions, predatory violence and all the rest that make nature so dark and threatening).
So is humanity really a blot on nature, a cancer, or are we the creative intelligence that can rescue nature and improve on it? Simon argues that humanity has been more of a creative force for good than a destructive force.
Others have argued that humanity is as natural as any other part of nature and what we do is as natural as any other activity in nature (whether bees building hives, ants building anthills, or beavers building dams).
This is not to argue for thoughtless elimination of wilderness. No. Most of us value some wilderness for recreational and other purposes. And our track record shows that we are protecting vast areas of wilderness. The argument here seems to pivot around how much should be preserved. Bill Rees argues that we need lots to support our civilization and also it is the right of other species to have their natural habitat. Interesting here is the fact that many species seem to prefer more civilized habitat to natural wilderness. Some studies have shown that more species of birds inhabit German cities than wild areas. And as the novel Pan’s Labyrinth notes, animals may even prefer such situations as zoos where they are protected from predation, disease, climate extremes, and other discomforts of wilderness. Nature as it is without human engagement can be quite dark and nasty (I refer to Lyall Watson’s Dark Nature).
The EF model raises all sorts of issues. Such as the substitution of exhausting resources for alternatives. Human history has proven that we make adjustments well to resource issues. Huber and Mills in Bottomless Well show how humans have found new resources or created new ones when others were being depleted (fiber optics to replace copper). Rees rejects the response of substitution.
Rees also rejects the Kuznet’s curve response. Indur Goklany has offered a new version of this curve (The Improving State of the World) which shows that when people gain enough wealth and their basic needs are met, they naturally turn to improving their environments. This is high value to most people.
The EF model is not built on rational and objective science but incorporates much of the ideology of its founder Rees. He is stubbornly pessimistic in his evaluation of life and the human enterprise. In classroom discussions he revealed something of his anti-capitalist, anti-urban, anti-growth and development, and generally anti-human enterprise leanings.
The EF model is not helpful in understanding the real state of the planet and nature. Simon, Lomberg, Goklany, Huber, Beckerman, and others provide a more accurate and helpful picture of the world and the human influence on the world. While problems still exist in various places, overall we are doing well in managing the planet’s resources. Our satellites now monitor most aspects of the natural world 24/7 and if problems arise we will take action to prevent any sort of calamitous outcome.
Our track record gives much reason for optimism.
PS. The carbon/CO2 element of the EF analysis is one of its weakest elements (and this undermines over half the footprint). Co2science.org is one among other sites that provide much excellent up-to-date research on this element and the relation to climate and the human influence. As with other evidence, we are not contributing to any destruction of the planet but our CO2 emissions appear to be improving nature significantly.
My reaction to Krossa? I may be looking at the world through “Green Coloured Glasses”, but hey, at least I am wearing glasses. Krossa doesn’t need them because he is completely blind. He would have me believe that I am Keenu Reeves in The Matrix. This world that is being devastated before my eyes is just a computer simulation, a virtual world. Those shopping malls and vynal subdivisions that have covered 20% of Canada’s Class 1 farmland , those clear cuts in the boreal forest, those waters outside my window that were choked with salmon just a generation ago but now are a mere shadow of their former self, those wetlands that are now filled and developed, those more than 500 endangered species in British Columbia are not endangered but flourishing, albeit invisibly, those days when metro Vancouver’s air quality index is sky high and that yellow band that of smog that is seen hanging over it----all of this is just a mirage, a figment of my imagination, a projection of my ideological twist.
There have been politicians like Krossa. We had a Minister of Highways who went to South Africa in the 1970s and told the media that he saw no evidence of Apartheid. We had a Soviet UN ambassador that told Adlai Stevenson that the U2 aerial photo of Soviet missile installations in Cuba that he was waving in front of him were fake. We had a former Prussian Interior Minister and Luftwafe chief Hermann Goering deny that millions were gassed in Nazi camps. Even now, Holocaust denial is a growing industry, as is Creation “science” and its new guise, “Intelligent Design Theory”. Is there any point in debating such people? Famous moral philosopher G. E. Moore did not apparently think so. A graduate student once came into his office at Trinity College and argued that Moore did not exist. He was simply an extension of the student’s imagination. Having concluded his argument, essentially--- an articulation of “Solipsism”--- Moore paused, then administered a swift kick to the student’s shin. “It seems that are now coping with a painful illusion”, he said. One day the real world will catch up to Krossa. Tim Murray