“The rhythm of our consumption, wasting and environmental changes have exceeded the ability of the planet to the point that our current lifestyle, being unsustainable, can result only in a disaster, as it already happens in different regions now and again”. These are the words Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical Praised Be over a year ago. Words that fell on deaf ears. The twenty-first century man, fed by an ever growing selfishness, has managed to deplete Earth’s biological resources that nature provides for an entire year.
These are the estimations for 2016 provided by the Global Footprint Network, a global research organization that annually measures the consumption of resources available on the globe. The Earth Overshoot Day, that is, the day of the overexploitation of the Earth, indicating the date on which the annual demand for natural resources, on the part of mankind, exceeds the resources that the Earth can regenerate over a year. In other words: we emit more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than the oceans and forests are able to absorb. Moreover, we exploit fishing areas and forests faster than they can reproduce and regenerate. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Co2 emissions are the element of ecological overexploitation that is growing faster and faster. In fact, the so-called Carbon Footprint generates sixty percent of the demand for natural resources needed by the humankind (that is, the ecological footprint). These data are quite shocking. To fulfill the purposes set out in the Paris Summit on climate, which was adopted by almost 200 countries in December 2015, the footprint due to the carbon dioxide emissions will have to gradually decline, till reaching almost zero by 2050. But everything has a price: a new way of life.
According to Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder of the Global Footprint Network, “a new lifestyle implies many advantages and requires commitment to make it happen.” But there is good news: “All this is feasible with the available technology and is economically advantageous because the overall benefits are greater than the costs – Wackernagel explains -. Emerging sectors such as renewable energy will be encouraged, reducing the risks and costs associated with business sectors that have no future because they are based on technologies with high carbon emissions, or because they are subject to risks related to climate change. The only resource we need is political will.”
These words echo those written by Bergoglio: “Let us aim to a lifestyle in line with the integral defense of the environment and of the life of all peoples. The speed imposed by human actions today contrast with the natural slowness of biological evolution.” We need to slow down the rhythm of growth, as Benedict XVI pointed out already in Caritas in Veritate. It is the idea of negative growth. The Pontiff underlines it too: “The time has come to accept a certain decline in some parts of the world, procuring resources to allow a healthy growth elsewhere.”
The Global Footprint Network reports that some countries have already accepted this challenge. Costa Rica, for example, has generated 97% of its electricity from renewable sources in the first three months of 2016. Portugal, Germany, and Britain, in their turn, have demonstrated world-class level with respect to the ability to produce renewable energy this year, with 100% of their electricity demand being met by renewable sources for several minutes or, in the case of Portugal, for several days. Unexpectedly, even the Chinese government has outlined a plan to reduce meat consumption by fifty percent among its citizens, thus decreasing by one billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions – equivalent to the fund livestock industry- by 2030.
Since the world population has grown exponentially, and consumption has increased accordingly, especially with regard to carbon emissions, the date of Earth Overshoot Day has moved over time from the end of September (in 2000) to August 8 this year. A positive fact is that the speed with which this date has been advancing fell to less than one day a year with the passing of time (on average over the past five years) compared to an average of three days a year since the 70’s, when overfishing began. “The Paris agreement on climate is still the strongest statement on the need to drastically reduce the carbon footprint. Ultimately, the choice is between collapse or stability”, Wackernagel emphasizes. It is a choice that “demands ability to limit some needs that stun us, so as to remain open to the many possibilities life offers; this way, it becomes possible to feel again that we need each other – says the Pope -, that we have a responsibility towards the others and towards the world, that it is worth to be good and honest people.”