Earth Limitations

If we step back and look at Earth’s capacity to sustain life, it becomes evident that serious changes are required to protect the livelihoods of future generations. Increases in resource use over the last century are astounding and should concern us all.

With growing demand for raw materials, sourcing of limited raw materials will become more difficult and expensive, presenting risk to supply chains and sustained global economic growth. The graph below demonstrates that from the year 2000 to 2014 commodity price inflation outpaced economic growth, breaking a trend from the 20th century.

Constrained by limited resources (supply) it becomes imperative that we correct our course in order to reduce new raw material demand by keeping existing materials in the economy for as long as possible by reusing and recycling. We must also transition away from the use of materials that require limited natural resources and that have low recyclability rates to materials that can be regenerated, such as opting for compostable products that can go back to nature and then be sourced again.

As we look to the future and seek to expand the quality of life of billions of people around the globe, it behooves us to do so in a manner that maximizes resource use efficiency. The image below is from a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) entitled “Vision 2050 - Time to Transform.” On the x-axis we have the Human Development Index (HDI)[16] measured in terms of “a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living.” The y-axis indicates humanity’s total resource consumption, measured in the number of planet Earths that would be required (based on 2019 biological capacity) if every human being consumed resources at the rate of an average individual in a given country[17]. The bottom right quadrant where HDI is high and achieved within the confines of the world’s biocapacity is the ultimate goal. From the graph, it is evident that we must profoundly improve our management of resources if we wish to continue to inhabit this planet without major disruptions.

Without transitioning to a high performing circular economy, the negative consequences compound as we move forward. The lack of global recycling bears costs in money, individual health, environmental health, and physical space.

This may be the greatest challenge of our time.

14. Accenture analysis, Krausmann, F., Gingrich, S., Eisenmenger, N., Erb, K.H., Haberl, H., Fischer-Kowalski, M., Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century., Ecological Economics 2009, Vol.68(10), 2696-2705 * Economist / Maddison

15. Accenture analysis, The Conference Board, ‘Total Economy Database – Key Findings’, January 2014,, The World Bank, ‘World Bank Commodity Price Data (The Pink Sheet)’, December 2014, indexmundi commodities

16. United Nations Development Programme - Human Development Index (HDI)

17. Global Footprint Network - Glossary - Planet Equivalents

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