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To preserve the limited amount of natural resources we have
Life is able to thrive on earth because of the immense amount of natural resources around us. Everyday, the forests and plants ensure that we have oxygen to breathe, the lakes, rivers, and aquifers ensure that we have water to drink, and land, plants and animals ensure we have food to eat. We rely on natural resources to provide us with the things that we need and use every day.
However, our natural resources are becoming increasingly stressed as greater demands are placed on their ability to provide us with their life giving services. As we cut down forests, drain lakes, rivers and aquifers, and cover the most productive land with our cities, we remove the capacity of nature to do exactly that: provide for us. On one hand, we, as humans, need more minerals, energy, land, water and other resources everyday, but on the other hand, our actions reduce the amount of resources that are available in the first place! We need to preserve the limited amount of natural resources that we do have, so that the earth can continue to provide.
Natural resources provide significant value - ecosystem services
You can think of the earth's natural systems as giant capital assets that provides us with a continuous stream of income. The services that the natural systems provide us, such as cleaning our water or purifying our air, are called ecosystem services, and they are provided to us for free! Our natural resources provide us with an immense amount of these services every day, which we as humans do not value very well because we do not have to pay for it.
Putting a value on the ecosystem
Some economists have tried to put a value on the ecosystem services nature provide us with, and that if we did not have all the natural resources we do, how much we would have to pay for all the services they provide. The results are astounding: in the most comprehensive estimate by a group led by Robert Constanza in the late 1990s, the value of the major ecosystem services was estimated to be in the range of US$16–54 trillion per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year. They noted that this may still underestimate the value, but when compared with the global gross national product (at the time) of around US$18 trillion, even this minimum estimate is staggering. This means that the natural ecosystem provides, on average, twice the amount of value as all the activities of humans (i.e. us!) around the world combined!
Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs
However, we are spending that capital, so we have less and less 'income' from the earth every year - the earth cannot provide as much value to us next year as it does this year. Worldwide loss of natural habitat costs humanity some US$250 billion every year, and because the conversion is permanent, those losses continue every year into the future, adding up year in and year out Going green helps preserve our natural resources, preserving our natural capital and the significant value that nature provides to us every day.
Social, cultural and spiritual value
Ecosystem services are just one part of the value of natural resources. There is much spiritual value supported by natural resources - our cultures, knowledge systems, intellectual development have always been influenced by and shaped by natural systems. Changes in these systems, such as loss of culturally valued ecosystems, can cause social disruptions. You need only experience the majesty of a wide natural space to recall the important value of natural resources, however, also imagine if that natural space was important to your culture.
The ecosystem needs biodiversity to resist climate change
Natural resources also help maintain and encourage biodiversity, which ensures the resilience of ecosystems. When biodiversity declines, ecosystems experience greater fluctuations to outside changes, such as floods and droughts. If there is a wider variety of life, different species can thrive while others will be affected. Preserving natural areas, especially those that are rich in different types of species, helps to ensure the resiliency of life on our planet. Even if they provided no services to us, there is still value in preserving our natural resources.
However, the capacity of our natural resources to provide for us is being diminished
It is becoming increasingly clear that we are reaching the limit in the amount of resources that we are able to use without damaging the ability of the earth to provide us with those valuable natural services. The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 highlighted that virtually all of the earth's ecosystems have been transformed by human activity, particularly over the last 50 years. Approximately 60% (15 out of 24) of the ecosystem services evaluated in the assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably.
Measuring your footprint – how many earths would it take?
An Ecological Footprint Analysis lets us examine the total area of land and water resources that we need to maintain our current lifestyle. An ecological footprint analysis compares human demand for services and products with the capacity of our natural resources to provide those services and regenerate resources. A look at the footprint of citizens of different countries show how much land each would require to sustain themselves, taking into account the amount of land needed to produce the food, energy, and other products that we need. If the area required exceeds the area available, then we are living unsustainable.
Do we really need another earth already?
On average, every human being on Earth needs 2.2 hectares to maintain our current lifestyle. This means we would require 1.3 Earths simply to sustain our current demand for natural resources, and that doesn’t account for growing population and rising standards of living around the world!! We only have one earth, so this clearly cannot go on forever. By using our resources more efficiently, we can all reduce our footprint and ensure that we live within the capacity of the earth. If everyone lived like your country, how many earths would we need?
times the global average
Number of Earths required if the world lived like this country
United Stated of America
Source: Global Footprint Network, 2006
Not ALL rich countries have big carbon footprints
It is clear that richer countries use far more resources than poorer countries in the world. However, what is also clear is that some countries can teach others how to reduce the average ecological footprint. Developing countries may have ideas that can be exported to more developed countries to help them reduce their footprint, and even among developed countries there is a wider range in the ecological footprint. For example, the United States and Europe have similar standards of living, however, the United States has twice the footprint of Europe. Living in a rich, developed country does not necessarily mean that you have a large ecological footprint - it is choices that you and your fellow citizens make that result in your ecological footprint being large or small!
Our natural resources are critical to human life on earth, however, our actions exceed the capacity of the earth to provide for us. Consider that our natural resources are like a giant bank account: we have a certain bank balance, and every year we spend more that we earn in interest; as a result, we earn less interest next year, but we will also want to withdraw more next year as our costs have gone up. Humans consume more of our natural resources that the world is able to provide, having a collective footprint larger than the world itself. It is time that you go green to preserve our limited natural resources, whether they are in your backyard or halfway around the world. We must all go green to reduce the rate that we are consuming our natural resources, so we do not continue to overspend our natural capital.