Did you know that the United States consumes more than 207 percent of its “ecological” capacity? That’s a figure thrown out in a new report from international research organization Worldwatch Institute, which is pushing for the nation to not to abandon a path of innovation when it comes to environmental policy and renewable energy investment. The timing of the research publication is certainly very timely, given all the Monday morning quarterbacking going on about the spectacular failure of solar company Solyndra.
What does it mean to be an ecological debtor? In the simplest sense, it suggests that American consumers use more natural resources than are actually available in the country, geographically speaking. For comparison, the average U.S. citizen uses 11 times as many resources as the average Chinese citizen and 32 times as much as the average Kenyan.
On the Worldwatch Institute’s list of “global stewardship” practices, the United States scored a 38 out of possible 100.
The report reiterates what has become a common theme that is being voiced more often by groups like Worldwatch: the United States continues to abdicate any responsibility for its consumption habits when it comes to their perceived potential impact on the planet.
Worldwatch Institute Executive Director Robert Engelman noted:
“The United States once set the world standard in confronting its environmental problems — protecting wild lands, establishing an environmental protection agency, and acting assertively to limit pollution of all types. Americans benefited economically and in many other ways from these efforts. … We need a powerful citizens’ movement to help policymakers see that any efforts to make the United States enduringly prosperous are doomed to fail so long as we forget that we are living on a finite planet and cannot change the laws of physics and biology to suit our ambitions.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this will be really hard feat to pull off, given the U.S. love of instant gratification. Despite protestations otherwise, our system favors and almost forces decisions that are in the interest of the short term and not long term view. When it comes to environmental policy or anything that smacks of cleantech innovation, the political climate could be described as indifferent at best, if not downright hostile.
The Solyndra mess certainly isn’t going to help, given the magnitude of the loss. I sure would love to hear more about our investments that HAVE paid off, wouldn’t you? Because I bet this one high-profile failure has been more than offset by dozens of smaller success stories that have paid off positively for U.S. taxpayers. We should all watch the Department of Energy’s SunShot program progress carefully.
In any event, the point of the Worldwatch report is to remind us, yet again, that our nation consumes more resources than it actually has available. It doesn’t suggest that U.S. consumers take a vow of non-consumption, but it does suggest that the nation needs to be more thoughtful about its habits. And that doing so will help, not hinder, our long-term economic and ecological prosperity.