We Must Protect Our Natural Resources

By. George P. Nassos

The various media talk about climate change and water depletion, two of the major environmental issues that must be addressed seriously real soon, like now. Another environmental issue that doesn’t seem to get as much attention is that of our natural resources, in particular the overconsumption of them. Mathis Wackernagel founded Redefining Progress in 1999 to determine the growth and consumption of our natural resources around the world. In 2003, it became the Global Footprint Network which had developed the science of measuring human demand on natural capital. This is the quantity of nature it takes to support people and their economies. The accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use to satisfy their consumption to the biologically productive area available within a region, nation, or the world.
To determine the footprint of the various countries, there is a measurement of productive area necessary for generation of food, material for clothing, energy requirements, material for shelter, and for the disposal of waste. The data that are collected are then used to calculate the productive area per capita for each country and for the world. For example, here are the ecological footprints for some countries along with the world average and the biocapacity of the world in 2018.
Qatar – 35 acres//capita
United States – 20
Greece – 10.1
China – 9.4
World Average – 6.85
Mexico – 5.9
World Biocapacity – 3.9
India – 3.0
Pakistan – 1.9

To summarize the above data, each American requires 20 acres of land and water to provide for their annual needs. The world average is 6.85 acres, but the planet only has a capacity of 3.9 acres. This means we are currently consuming the equivalent of 1.75 earths.

The Global Footprint Network has developed another metric called Earth Overshoot Day. It is the day in the year that we will have consumed all the natural resources that will be generated globally in that calendar year. In 2022, Earth Overshoot Day was July 28 and in 2023 it was a day earlier, on July 27. However, if you consider just the United States, Earth Overshoot Day in 2023 was March 13. This means we Americans are consuming the equivalent of over five earths. A look at some other countries, for Qatar it was February 19, for China it was June 2, but for India it did not exist because India consumes less than it generates. The sad news is that Earth Overshoot Day has been arriving earlier every year and may continue to do so unless we do something about it. What can be done?

One of the biggest problems with overconsumption is that we waste 30% of the food that is generated. In the developed countries food is wasted when people purchase more than they consume and too much is thrown away. We should avoid the “buy-one-get-one-free” offers unless we are certain that the free food item will be consumed before it spoils. Grocery stores tend to purchase more than is needed from their suppliers to be sure they don’t run out of food for their customers. In the developing countries, 30% of the food is wasted due to the lack of refrigeration and shipping infrastructure, both of which need to be improved.

While urban farming is becoming more popular, its growth must be increased. Growing fruits and vegetables in tall urban buildings has many benefits. Water consumption can be reduced by 90% compared to agricultural fields, carbon emissions are greatly reduced since the produce is grown in the middle of the buyers’ market, and production is 12 months per year. The vegetable product is grown organically without the need of any pesticides or herbicides. With the increase in working from home, there is a major increase in unoccupied buildings. This is a good time to convert some of these buildings for urban farming.

We should also start to think of ways to decrease waste ourselves. As an example, say you want to eat pizza that is in your freezer, but you only want to eat half of it. What are your options. You can cook the entire pizza, eat half of it and throw out the other half. Or you can eat half of the cooked pizza, wrap up the other half and eat it later before it spoils. Or perhaps the best option is to cook only half of the frozen pizza and place the other half back in the freezer.

We can also obtain some ideas from cities such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi that practices sustainability or consider THE LINE, a part of Neom, a city in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia with a $550 billion construction budget to become the city of the future. Neom also includes Neom University that has elected the former provost of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Andreas Cangellaris, as its president.

We all need to think of various ways to reduce the consumption of our natural resources.