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How Many Earths Do We Need?

Hannah Edens

22 March 2016


In an article posted on BBC.com, the question of “How many earths do we need?” was raised. The article, titled with the same question, was written by Charlotte McDonald and published on June 16, 2015. This question has been a question many economists, environmentalists, and sustainable development experts have been asking for a while now. As the article states, the world’s “seven billion people consume varying amounts of the planet’s resources”, but it is important to note that city-dwellers and more developed countries consume more. According to McDonald, if everyone on the planet lived like us Americans do, we would require 4 Earths to sustain our consumptive lifestyles. This is a lot of Earths and we don’t have 4 Earths, we only have one. The infographic (also in the article) featured an interesting depiction of how many Earths we would require if everyone on the Earth lived like that respective country. For example, if we all lived like the people of Bangladesh do, we would only require 1/2 of an Earth. On the contrary, if we all lived the citizens of the United Arab Emirates do, we would require about 5 and 1/2 Earths.

This method of “ecological footprinting” is extremely helpful at identifying the resources people use to maintain their own lifestyles. By using this method of mapping, researchers can identify more consumptive trends and where exactly high rates of consumption is occurring and growing. This is the main mission of the Global Footprint Network, in the hopes that people will become more aware about their own over-consumption.

This article relates back to our class as we covered environmental ecology and sustainable development topics. If we continue to consume at the rates we are consuming and if the rest of the world also consumes the same, we are going to be out of resources, goods and services, and, ultimately, an Earth to call our home. We need to focus on sustainable development, as our population and consumption rates continue to grow. Some potential sustainable development solutions are: using recycling/composting to decrease our consumption of raw materials; employing life-cycle analysis methods to determine the exact impact those products have on our Earth; and encouraging businesses and corporations to produce less at a better quality and with better, more environmentally-friendly methods. All of these methods will decrease how many Earths will we require to maintain our consumptive lifestyles.

As an added note: If you are personally interested in seeing how many Earths would be required if everyone on Earth lived like you, check out this Ecological Footprint Calculator (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/). Personally, we would need 4.1 Earths if everyone lived my lifestyle. I suggest you check it out and play with it a bit (for example, decreasing your meat consumption) and see what that has on how many Earths would be required.


Link to article: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712

Link to Ecological Footprint Calculator: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/


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