October 3, 2023

Earth Overload Day: A Questionable Fingerprint – Science Spectrum

Is the city really worth the forest?

The founder of this method justifies this by saying that it is “limited to United Nations data, which does not cover all land requirements, estimates production at high amounts and leaves a lot of damage.” That’s why “our current numbers underestimate the deficit gap between footprint and biocapacity,” says Matthijs Wackernagel when asked.

“We just think about how much space is needed each year to cover the demand and how much space is available for that,” explains Susanne Winter, head of global forest protection at WWF Germany. She is troubled by the fact that the Global Footprint Network uses the “biocapacity” of a forest as the maximum usable area within which trees can be logged. “This ignores what actually needs to be protected from this area for environmental reasons,” she says.

“We just think about how much space is needed each year to cover the demand and what space is available for that purpose.”Susanne Winter, WWF, Germany

The “Global Footprint Network” approach simply gets rid of some environmental problems: in Germany, for example, federal conservation authorities see the development of more and more natural areas for settlements and roads as a major problem. As a result, natural habitats for plants and animals as well as hiking routes are disappearing or being cut off.

On the other hand, the “Global Footprint Network” automatically determines the space requirements of settlements and their so-called biocapacity equally. In Germany, for example, the built-up area has increased by 30 percent since the 1990s. In statistics, the so-called “biological capacity” simply grew, and the environmental consequences for animals, plants and habitats were not taken into account. This is how business economists look at the environment, but not sustainability researchers.

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Predominance of carbon dioxide

The fact that, despite these systemic problems, the alarm was raised and “Earth Exhaustion Day” was set on August 2, is due only to one factor: carbon dioxide.2-Emissions. In its budget, the Global Footprint Network calculates the amount of forest that would be needed to biologically store all human emissions in new wood rather than storing them mainly in the air, as is the case now — a strategy no one takes seriously in pursuing global climate protection efforts. Carbon storage in forests is responsible for 60 percent of human land use in the 2022 data. The carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans is simply subtracted from the relevant formula – without taking into account the environmental damage caused by water acidification.

If you ignore climate and just look at factors like arable land, forests and fisheries, the overall balance is surprisingly positive: humanity is using only 68% of the “biocapacity” actually available to it. Without assuming that everything is carbon dioxide2 If you were to store it in the forests, there would never be a “land exhaustion day.”