Ecological Debt

Assuming that a kilowatt of energy from the U.S. electrical grid requires the same amount of ecological resources anywhere in the world (measured by the ecological footprint), then the cost per global hectare will be about $770 by the end of 2008 if my estimate for inflation ends up being correct.

Applied to my projections of inflation, footprint, population (based on footprint), and Gross World Product, the cumulative cost of the world’s excess consumption of ecological resources is expected to be double the GWP just as the population peaks in the early 2030s. This “ecological debt” will likely exceed the GWP within two years.

If the implied causal relationship between cumulative ecological debt and population decline is real, then we can identify the constraints on how much and how fast we must divert our economic activity to replace Nature’s functionality (ability to both regenerate the resources we consume and process the waste we generate). By 2030 the GWP is expected to grow from $65T to $123T (2005 dollars); over the same period the cumulative ecological debt will grow from $62T to $233T, and the population will grow from 6.7 billion to 7.8 billion. To cancel our debt by 2030, we will need to decide how well we want people to live (available GWP per person, with the rest going to the environment), and change both our consumption patterns and our remediation of Nature accordingly.

One of the takeaway messages from Leonardo DiCaprio’s excellent 2007 film “The 11 th Hour” is that the world doesn’t have five years to create a movement; change needs to happen much sooner. This message is consistent with my projection that our cumulative ecological debt will equal GWP by the end of next year ($68T in 2005 dollars): beyond that point, to survive, we may literally be forced to create a new economy without Nature’s help.


© Copyright 2008 Bradley Jarvis. All rights reserved.