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How Many Earths Will Fulfil Human Needs?

Riyanna: Do you know that the Earth takes one year and 8 months to regenerate what we use in a year.

Avni: Interesting, Is this a fixed period or keeps varying?

Riyanna: Well, it keeps varying as per use. Global Footprint Network is an international NGO that helps calculate the number of days that Earth’s biocapacity can provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint every year. You can also calculate how much you're contributing to reducing this capacity on their website.

Avni: Lovely, I will try that right away. But what is this footprint? Could you tell me more?

Riyanna: I'd love to. Ecological Footprint is a measure of the demands of consumption that humans and their activities place on the biosphere. We then add up all of the demands, such as the cropland needed to grow our food and clothing, our forest lands needed for timber, and the carbon dioxide emissions from the energy we use. All of these units are then individually translated into an equivalent number of global hectares needed to fulfill them. The sum of the global hectares needed to support a person is that person’s total Ecological Footprint.

Avni: Now, I understand the concepts. But how does the correlation work?

Riyanna: It's simple. If the total footprint (in hectares) per year is more than the total hectare of bioproductive land on the planet, it means that we are consuming more than we need, ie we are tapping into the reserves.

It's like you make 10000 rupees a month, but your bills and expenses each month total to 15000. You will tap into your savings, until you have found more ways to make money, or have exhausted all that you have saved so far.

To put that in the context of today, the Earth’s productivity is not enough to compensate for the consumption demands of this growing population.

Avni: So, we seem to be in deficit right now. But precisely how much biocapacity do humans demand, and how much is available?

Riyanna: As I said before, we are using 1 year 8 months' worth of Earth every year. This means we are using 1.6 times our production capacity. While that number might not seem like a lot, 66% of our present needs are being fulfilled by our savings/reserves. And this demand is increasing every day, as the population continues to grow. 

Avni: If we continue to remain in deficit, what will be the consequences?

Riyanna: Very similar to what happens in the case of your bank account, confusion, loss of ability to access things that are needed for survival, and eventual disruption and destruction.

In purely ecological terms, overuse will –

Avni: This seems to be very disturbing. Now, I am able to correlate the floods of Kerala and the water crisis of Chennai to our overconsumption of resources. We fail to see the connection many times. But, is there no solution?

Riyanna: There is no single solution.

As an individual, you can do any or all of the following:

  • You can start by carrying your own water bottle everywhere, and re-filling for fresh water each time. We love this Bamboofied bottle, completely natural and made entirely from bamboo!

  • Use less energy. Walk when you can, use public transport as much as possible, and eat less processed foods.

  • Switch to sustainable alternatives. You can check out Planting Stories for ideas and buying options!

  • Plastics are the enemy. Avoid using anything that is made from plastic or has plastic packaging. Most of these plastics cannot be recycled, and end up in the earth, making them toxic.

  • Segregate your waste, as per your local municipality's norms. Basically, keep the plastics separate from the food waste, which should be completely separate from your syringes and pads/diapers. This helps extract maximum value from waste, making sure that none of it has to be dumped into Earth's lap.

  • Grow your own food. I know, in today's limited land, it is difficult; but there are many cool urban farming techniques that you can adopt to include a majority of clean and fresh fruits and vegetables. Vertical gardens, hydroponics, and grow bags to name a few.

Though that will not be enough. There isn't enough time.

Each of us must act in different capacities as an individual, come together as a community, build the right policies and enforcement systems for a nation, and act as a world as a whole.

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