Global Footprint Stress Index: Extreme (purple, >10), High (orange 3-10), Moderate (yellow 1-3), Low (white <1)
Last month I wrote an article suggesting that a propensity for war-mongering and civil violence, i.e. the tendency to take hasty and extreme action rather than a reasoned and responsible response to a crisis, might be attributable to what Edward Hall describes as population stress, the adrenaline-driven aggressive/panic stress response that all creatures exhibit when their population greatly exceeds sustainable carrying capacity. Hall explains that this is nature’s ‘last resort’ method of bringing the population of the species quickly back into balance with the rest of the ecosystem, when the species fails to manage its own numbers and when opportunistic diseases don’t do the trick. Earlier I had calculated a simple Population Stress Index (PSI), which was computed by multiplying density per arable square mile by population growth rate, and I compared it to an astonishingly similar map by another blogger, Matthew White, showing violent death rate by country.
As I explained in last month’s post, the PSI is an imperfect stress index. It does not show the very different levels of consumption and demand on local resources of people in different countries (which has as much to do with sustainability as population). So I have now computed a Footprint Stress Index (FSI), plotted on the map above, which is computed as follows:
Resource Use Index: Sample Countries
Footprint Stress Index: Sample Countries
The US, China, Congo, Colombia, Venezuela, and several Mid-Eastern nations all have FSIs in excess of 10. These are all countries embroiled in war, imperialistic or regional or civil, except for China where dissent is ruthlessly suppressed. These are the countries that are suffering enormous anxiety because not only are they consuming vastly more resources than what they have available domestically, their populations or industrial capacities are also growing rapidly, meaning they will need to find ever more resources outside the country to feed the soaring need.
Japan, South Korea and most European nations have very high Resource Use Indices, but because their populations are growing slowly and because they are mostly very aware of conservation, their EFs are not increasing. As a result, their FSIs are more moderate. Because they all depend so heavily (90% or more) on imports of other countries’ natural resources, however, as these resources get depleted and as exporting countries realize how cheaply they are giving them away, these nations’ unsustainable resource demands will not be able to be met, and that will drive their Footprint Stress Indices way up. Once these scarcities become endemic, there will no longer be any option to increase resource use, and at that point the Resource Use Index itself will become the Footprint Stress Index.
What will the world be like when dozens of nations, whose economies are using resources at more than ten times the rate they can sustain them from domestic supplies, suddenly find the price of these supplies quadrupling, or that these supplies are not available at any price? Colour all the countries on the left side of the Resource Use Index table above purple on the map at the top of this article and you’ll get the idea. We’re talking about a world war for increasingly scarce resources. And all of the countries on the right side of that table then become invasion targets.
We all know what we have to do. Immediate massive taxes on resources to finance the development of technologies that conserve or don’t require natural resources. Shut-down of corporations that waste resources, that pollute, and that produce non-essential products. An end to subsidies, so that we can begin to realize the true cost of our profligate deficit spending. The pay-down of government debts to reduce the risk of economic collapse when interest and inflation rates spike. Incentives for having no children, or maybe one.
Of course, we have no appetite for these draconian solutions. The corporatist Frankenstein monster is perpetuating the waste and madness that is producing this crisis, and they accept no responsibility for the ultimate Tragedy of the Commons that will hit us with colossal force once we simply run out of resources to consume to keep civilization’s engine running. The hydrogen economy simply won’t occur fast enough to stave off disaster.
Our best hope is, ironically, that some crisis will shock us into collective action before the real crunch hits. We learned nothing from the oil line-ups a generation ago, but perhaps it is not too late. If the first crisis to hit is manageable, we may be motivated to combine three massive human efforts: Voluntary negative population growth, global large-scale conservation, and an unprecedented investment in innovation and new low-footprint technologies, that could prevent a social, economic and ecological collapse. We survived a Great Depression three quarters of a century ago by exactly this type of huge, collective intervention. That’s what we need now. The ‘market’ isn’t going to fix this mess.