ecostory 54/2006
WWF and Wackernagel's pseudo-scientific "Footprint" calculations
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The Living Planet Facts and Figures
WWF's and Wackernagel's "Footprint" account

BBC story of 24.10.2006:

WWF and Matthis Wackernagel (and the BBC - reporters being misled!) are giving a misleading picture of humanity's impact on the planet!

Their footprint figures account for biological resources only. Nevertheless in the graphs non-renewables such as fossil fuels and nuclear energy are pictured. This is pseudo-scientific since natural resources include all resources that we take from the Earth, including energy, minerals and metals, and landmass.

Biological, i.e. renewable resources could indeed be calculated in hectares and their overshoot in numbers of planets.

But no number of planets can compensate for the depletion of non-renewable resources. At the present rate of depletion, fossil fuels run out in some one to two generations. Other resources, such as non-renewable groundwater streams, are also being depleted. And we do not have two planets but only one. Full stop.

Meanwhile these fossil fuels that we burn are increasing the greenhouse gas concentration and the climate change they cause. (see PS)

The second deception lies in the maps that show countries claimed to have a biocapacity larger than their footprint. South-America, Australia, Siberia and most of Africa would not have to worry. They're doing fine, the image tells us.

Again, this is pseudo-science at best. Even IF one would look at the biocapacity, i.e. the renewable resources exclusively, could one really say that Brazil or Australia are not overexploiting their agricultural and forestry areas? (see PS)

Overexploitation in the inhabited areas cannot be compensated by the remaining wilderness areas and rain forests. The agricultural expansion and overexploitation in Brazil leads to increasing destruction of the rain forests. The groundwater damage caused by agriculture in Western Australia is not compensated by rainforests in the Northern Territories, for instance.

Fact is that humanity is overexploiting the planet, both by our numbers and by our per capita consumption of resources.
Fact is also that climate change in unstoppable and mitigation efforts are bound to fail.

Footprint, WWF and their sponsors in the ABE-complex (Administration-Business-Economics) see the foreshadows of a dark future. The solutions they propose, however, are inadequate and insufficient.

Kyoto is a scam, never going to work and with goals less than one per cent of what climatologists deem necessary. It's a feel-gooder only, detracting from working on other measures, such as restructuring the economies to localised low energy and low material use ones.

Blaming the consumer by asking them to reduce consumption and simultaneously supporting economic growth is either fraud or stupidity. Reducing consumption leads to economic contraction. Growth leads to more resource depletion and pollution. Both are incompatible.

Some aconomists promote the silly idea of non-material growth, as if people could live on thin air and ideas only in a so-called "knowledge economy".

Finally, one seems to forget that there is only one planet and that nature knows no frontiers. The carbondioxide that we would not produce, is generated by the production of our imported goods from developing countries. Their economic growth is caused by our globalisation policies. For the planet the impact is the same, be it caused by 6.5 billion people of equal welfare or 1 billion rich and 5.5 billion poor. Too much remains too much.

If the BBC would follow their ambition of being a serious broadcaster it should not blindly publish such don't-rock-the-boat-too-much stories. You should verify the validity of such news and ask the opinion of independent environmental scientists.

Should decide to publish this feedback, please don't cut. Otherwise please don't publish.

You can contact me in Geneva by email and we could then arrange for a phone call, should you desire so.

I intend publishing this mail as ecostory 54 at

Kind regards ... Helmut Lubbers

PS (added online only).
Wackernagel and Rees's footprint theory also claims to account for the area that is required to sequester carbon emissions. (See Rees chapter 9) In fact and reality, carbon sequestration by land is contested. We believe there is no way that land could ever sequester carbon emissions at a rate that is 1 million times higher than the rate of fossil fuel deposition eons ago.
It is plain nonsense to say that "Debtor countries [...] may be releasing more CO2 than they can absorb themselves.
Firstly NO country could ever absorb the quantities of CO2 that are emitted. Fossil fuels are burned within some 250 years that took 200 million years to be formed in a distant past. Forests - if they are newly planted - can only absorb some CO2 temporarily.
Secondly It does not matter where the CO2 is produced. A country with a high standard of living but without heavy industries or electric power plants will simply have its share of carbon emissions produced in another country and import the products. Air and greenhouse gases know no borders.
  • Footprints...
  • "Our Carbon Footprint" and "ecological footprint"
  • The Living Planet Facts and Figures WWF's and Wackernagel's "Footprint" account
  • Ecologocal Footprint" compared to "Environmental Impact"
  • footprints and sustainability
  • Area-based Sustainability - William Rees 1995
  • sustainability

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