Friday October 22, 05:24 AM - Humanity's reliance on fossil fuels, thespread of cities, the destruction of natural habitats for farmland and theexploitation of the oceans are outstripping the planet's capacity to cope,the conservation group WWF said.
The biggest culprits are residents of Australia, the United Arab Emirates,the United States, Kuwait and Sweden, who leave the biggest "ecologicalfootprint," the World Wide Fund for Nature said in its regular LivingPlanet Report.
Humans currently consume 20 per cent more natural resources than the Earthcan produce, the report said.
"We are spending nature's capital faster than it can regenerate," said WWFchief Claude Martin, launching the 40-page study. "We are running up anecological debt which we won't be able to pay off unless governmentsrestore the balance between our consumption of natural resources and theEarth's ability to renew them."
But Fred Smith, president of the Washington, DC-based CompetitiveEnterprise Institute and a former official of the US EnvironmentalProtection Agency during the Nixon and Ford administrations, said he wasskeptical. In a telephone interview, Smith claimed the WWF view is"static" and fails to take into account the benefits many people get fromresource use.
Use of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil increased by almost 700 percent between 1961 and 2001, the study said.
Burning fossil fuels - in power plants and automobiles, for example -releases carbon dioxide, which experts say contributes to global warming.The planet is unable to keep pace and absorb the emissions, WWF said.
Populations of land, freshwater and marine species fell on average by 40per cent between 1970 and 2000. The report cited urbanisation, forestclearance, pollution, overfishing and the introduction by humans ofnon-native animals, such as cats and rats, which often drive outindigenous species.
"The question is how the world's entire population can live with theresources of one planet," said Jonathan Loh, one of the report's authors.
The study, WWF's fifth since 1998, examined the "ecological footprint" ofthe planet's entire population.
Most of a person's footprint is caused by the space needed to absorb thewaste from energy consumption, including carbon dioxide. WWF also measuredthe total area of cities, roads and other infrastructure and the spacerequired to produce food and fibre - for clothing, for example.
"We don't just live on local resources," so the footprint isn't confinedto the country where consumers live, said Mathis Wacknagel, head of theGlobal Footprint Network, which includes WWF.
For example, Western demand for of Asia's palm oil and South America'ssoybeans has wrecked natural habitats in those regions, so the destructionis considered part of the footprint of importing nations. The same appliesto Arab oil consumed in the United States.
The findings are similar to those in WWF's 2002 report, which covered theperiod up to 1999. But the latest study contains more detailed datastretching to 2001. It shows the situation has changed little in mostcountries, and is now more worrying in fast-growing China and India.
The world's 6.1 billion-strong population leaves a collective footprint of13.5 billion hectares, or 2.2 hectares per person. To allow the earth toregenerate, the average should be no more than 1.8 hectares, said WWF.
The impact of an average North American is double that of a European, butseven times that of the average Asian or African.
Residents of the United Arab Emirates, who use air conditioningextensively, leave a 9.9-hectare footprint, two-thirds caused by fossilfuel use. The average US resident leaves a 9.5-hectare footprint, alsolargely from fuel.
Swedes leave a 7-hectare footprint, but most is caused by land use. Likeits Nordic neighbours, the country has won praise from campaigners forcutting fossil fuel use.
The study also warned of increasing pressure on the planet's resourcesamid spiralling consumption in Asia.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has been a frequent critic of what itcalls "environmental alarmism" from organisations like WWF. Smith said thefootprint idea is wrongheaded.
"It's sort of like saying, 'General Motors must be much more wasteful thanthe local laundromat because General Motors spends more resources.' Yes,but they are producing more product too," he told the AP.
"The real question is not whether the United States is a wealthy place butrather whether it's producing more wealth than it's consuming. Obviouslywe are. We're using a lot of the world's resources but we're producing farmore of the world's resources."
Loh said governments, businesses and consumers should switch to energyefficient technology, such as solar power.
"We can consume energy in a way that's harmful or in a way that'ssustainable," he told reporters. The technologies are available to enablethe world's population to live within the capacity of one planet."
High oil prices may help focus their minds.
"But it's not a question of how much oil is left," he said. "The questionwe should be asking is how much fossil fuel consumption the Earth cansustain. The Earth has a limited capacity."