Ecological Justice Factoids & Commentary

infant smashing earth 

  • Global consumption has exceeded global carrying capacity (ecological resources) since the late 70s to mid eighties. We are in ‘overshoot’, living beyond sustainable limits, by 20 to 30%. For the first time humanity as a whole has crossed a critical survival threshold.


  • However, in terms of consumption, there is no ‘we’, no one humanity. There are huge differences in consumption between and within nations according to income, wealth, power and class.
  • Global resource consumers can be divided into five groups according to per capita incomes: ‘industrialised countries’ (IC) and ‘developing countries’ (DC) with high income (DC/A, e.g. Singapore, Kuwait), upper middle income (DC/B, e.g. Malaysia, Brazil), lower middle income (DC/C, e.g. Egypt, Russia, China) and low income (DC/D, e.g. India, Nigeria, Vietnam).
  • One way of measuring human consumption impact is via people’s Ecological Footprint (EF).
  • EFs measure all the land needed to provide an average person with housing, transport, food, water, timber, minerals, waste disposal, greenhouse gas absorption etc.
  • Already in 1996, Sydney’s EF was 35 times larger than its actual area.
  • There are huge differences in average international EFs between rich and poor countries.
  • Fair Earth Share’ (sustainable global average per capita EF at current populations): 1.5 – 1.8 ha. This figure could be the key benchmark for a global notion of Ecological Justice.
  • Global per capita EF in 2001: c. 2.2 ha (i.e. 20% – 30% overshoot over Fair Earth Share).
  • Australian average per capita EF: 7.8 ha. (Mosman per capita EF 2004: 14.7 ha.). Australian average EF is 2nd or 3rd highest in world after US.
  • Current Australian average Ecological Deficit (difference to Fair Earth Share): c. – 6.3 ha


  • IC average per capita EF 2001: 6.5 ha. DC average per capita EF: 1.5 ha. (DC/B: 2.7 ha. DC/C: 1.7 ha. DC/D: 0.9 ha.). Thus IC to DC ratio average EFs: c. 4.5 to 1.
  • Annual average per capita CO2 emissions IC: 12.6 t (Sweden 5.5 t, Aus 27 t); DC: 2.3 t; (DC/B: 4.5 t; DC/D: 0.9 t.) Thus ICs are currently 5 or 6 times more responsible for climate chaos (and much more historically when consumption rates were even more disparate).
  • Ecological Debt: on average, each Australian has contributed nearly 10 times more to greenhouse pollution during the past 150 years than a person in China. The US (5% world population) alone has contributed c. 30% of global greenhouse pollution. Who pays this debt?
  • Number of planets needed to sustain world population at average US/Australian level of consumption: 5.5; at average German levels: 2.5; at Brazilian levels: 2; at Chinese levels: 0.75
  • The rich 20% of the world account for 86% of total global consumer spending and thus 86% of all concomitant resource use/depletion and ecological stress. This is the key distributional injustice that guarantees global ecological degradation, social misery and armed conflict.
  • US and Canada alone (5.2% world population) are responsible for 31.5% of world consumption, while South Asia (22.4% world population) is responsible for 2%.
  • Average Africa household today consumes 25% LESS than 25 years ago.
  • Some examples of distributional injustice: Amount needed for reproductive health care for all women in world: c. $11 billion. Amount spent in western world on make-up: c. $ 18 billion.
  • Amount needed to eliminate hunger in world: c. $ 19 billion. Amount spent in West on pet food: c. $ 17 billion. Immunize every child: c. $ 1 billion. Spent on ice cream in Europe: c. $ 10.5 billion. (Australian military spending next 10 years: $ 100 billion).
  • IC gov spending on fossil fuels/nuclear: $ 71 billion, on road transport: $ 1.1 trillion.
  • Commentary: All this western spending has high EFs. They are not ‘market failures’ but ‘market successes’: goods and services flow to those who can pay, no matter at what cost to others and future generations. The market’s ‘external costs’ are passed on to those without power and to planetary ecosystems. This is the way the world economic system (the ‘free market’) has been set up to work. This is a question of economic, political, military power.
  • Commentary: There can be no ecological justice and lasting peace until there is social justice. There can be no social justice until the economic system is changed to sustainably meet real social (poor peoples’) needs within the limits of the planet’s carrying capacity. The market system cannot be fixed by the market system itself. Those in power will not change it.
  • It can only be changed by democratic intervention/popular empowerment against the powerful.

Sources: Wuppertal Institute 2005, Fair Future, Verlag C.H. Beck, Munich; New Internationalist No. 395, Nov 2006; D. Henry, ‘A second chance for the odd two out to address climate change’, SMH 10/1/2006, p. 9; Mosman Council 2005, Living Within the Means of Nature – Eco-Living in Mosman; G. Monbiot, ‘costing climate change’, NI 396, Dec 2006, p. 31.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 6, 2009.

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