The single most important factor in the health of each person is not the availability of good health services, or effective cancer drugs, or short waiting lists or state of the art accident services, it is the integrity of the Earth’s ecological services. Perhaps this is an understatement for it is the only factor of consequence. Without ecological services, the Earth would be ‘dead’ like many other planets including our neighbouring planets in the solar system. It follows that the protection of ecological services is integral to maintaining all advances we have made in medical science and in providing a future for further advances.
Biodiversity is the variety of all life-forms: the different forms of animals, plants, and micro-organisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems of which they form a part. It is this diversity that allows species to adapt to changing environmental conditions, as well as providing ecological services to humans. Examples of ecological services are the provision of food, fiber, purified water, degradation of wastes and pollutants, recycling of nutrients, stabilization of climate, protection against flood and storm, and provision of materials for shelter, medicines, and cultural activity. Humans cannot survive without these services. The web of life (top right on the poster) shows some of these essential services provided by plants and animals.
Climate change and habitat modification are the leading causes of Biodiversity decline. (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Seventy five per cent of Australian rainforests have been lost in the last 200 years. Grazing of domestic animals has reduced Australian temperate grassland to less than 2% of that present in 1750. (Australian State of the Environment Report , 2006). Two hundred years ago humans utilized 7% of productive land on this planet. This figure today stands at approximately 50%, with our population and appetite for resource consumption still growing. Many renewable resources (eg. fish stocks, underground water) are being consumed faster than they are replenished. As humans occupy and consume more of the planet, less remains to support all the other species of the natural world. Within the ‘Web of Life’ humankind is ultimately dependent on a healthy natural world. The break down of essential ecosystem services will have serious economic, cultural, security and health impacts.
It is possible to calculate the impact of each of us on the resources of the natural world. We call this a footprint and it is shown on the centre of the poster. The size of our footprint gets bigger and bigger because of the actions listed on the sole of the foot! The larger our footprint, the more we displace other species and use up resources that all species rely upon for continuing life and health.
We encourage you to look at a footprint calculator. Unfortunately the SA government has changed their site since we printed the poster and we suggest therefore that you go to http://www.epa.vic.gov.au/ecologicalfootprint/calculators/default.asp
or, go to the Ecological Footprint Quiz on http://www.earthday.net/footprint/index.asp
or, go to the ACF Eco-Calculator http://www.acfonline.org.au/custom_greenhome/calculator.asp?section_id=86
Footprint calculators can provide a guide as to how much of the Earth’s resources an individual is using. Then by re-calculating with different potential consumption patterns you can also calculate what part of your lifestyle has the greatest contribution to your footprint, and make appropriate changes.
Remember that your calculation is an estimation only. Ecological impact is very complex and variable, even from season to season . Calculators try to get a balance between simplicity and accuracy – some of the more accurate ones may take hours to complete and require calculation of expenditure on separate aspects of living, data from energy bills etc.
However, we believe that it is still an enlightening and worthwhile exercise for individuals to be aware of the relative size of their footprint on the Earth.
Australia’s Ecological Footprint in the Living Planet Report 2004 was 7.7 global hectares per person. This is over three and a half times the average Global Footprint of 2.2 global hectares , and well beyond the level of what the planet can regenerate on an annual basis – an equivalent of about 1.8 global hectares per person per year. A global hectare refers to one hectare (approximately soccer field size) of biologically productive space with world-average productivity. The most significant factor contributing to the Australian Ecological Footprint is carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels (constituting approximately half of the total Australian Footprint). We live in large cities, generally large houses, travel long distances and obtain most of the energy for these from fossil fuels.
If every person now living consumed resources as does the average Australian, we would need 4 Earths to support that lifestyle.