Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 11:37:56 AM EST
A few weeks ago while I was visiting Madrid I saw the following news in the "Madrid" section of El País. I suspect the only reason it was not ignored altogether is the "doom porn" angle to it: Madrid's ecological footprint exceeds its carrying capacity by a factor of 20.
Update [2007-11-20 16:37:17 by Migeru]:
|La región que más contamina de España · ELPAÍS.com || ||The most polluting region in Spain|
|Madrid consume y genera una contaminación 20 veces superior a su capacidad de regenerar sus recursos naturales (lo que los técnicos llaman biocapacidad). Es la región que más contamina de toda España, si se exceptúan Ceuta y Melilla. Son los resultados del primer estudio sobre la denominada huella ecológica hecho en España por la Fundación Biodiversidad, dependiente del Ministerio de Medio Ambiente. La huella ecológica es un indicador que fija la superficie en hectáreas necesarias para volver a producir los recursos que se han utilizado y para asimilar los residuos que genera una población. Los puntos negros corresponden a comunidades con fuertes procesos de urbanización. Como Madrid (con un indicador de contaminar 19,9 veces su capacidad de regenerar), seguido de Canarias (10,4) y la Comunidad Valenciana (7,2). La media nacional es de 2,6. || ||Madrid consumes and pollutes 20 times more than its ability to regenerate its natural resources (what is technically known as biocapacity). It is the region that pollutes the most in the whole of Spain, excluding [the north-African enclave towns] Ceuta and Melilla. These are the results of the first study on the so-called ecological footprint made in Spain by the Biodiversity Foundation, subsidiary to the Environment Ministry. The ecological footprint is an indicator that fixes [sic] the area in hectares needed to reproduce the resources used and to assimilate the waste generated by a population. The black spots correspond to [Autonomous] Communities [i.e., regions] with strong urbanization processes. Such as Madrid (with a pollution indicator 19.9 times higher than its regeneration capacity), followed by the Canary Islands (10.4) and the Valencian Community (7.2). The national average is 2.6|
The journalistic incompetence of El País never ceases to amaze me. The report was not, as they say, made by the Fundación Biodiversidad, but by the Environment Ministry. The report is dated July 2, but the news reflects a seminar that the Foundation organised at the end of October. I am told that the report is "sensitive" and is not being published or circulated, so none of the methodological questions raised in the comments can easily be answered at this point. <tinfoil>Personally, I think the report is being suppressed because it calls into question Spain's economic model.</tinfoil>
After much digging, I managed to find a PDF version of a 37-page preliminary analysis of Spain's ecological footprint. In it we learn that the footprint of consumption and waste has been evaluated, but the following has not been taken into account (yet?):
- "qualitative" impacts such as soil and water pollution, erosion, atmospheric pollution (excluding CO2), loss of biodiversity or impact on the landscape
- it is assumed that agriculture, husbandry and forestry are sustainable, that is, that soil productivity is not degraded by erosion, pollution, etc
- the impact associated to water use is not taken into account
So the conclusions of the report are an understatement
of ecological footprint.
The report observes that ecological footprint for most categories has stayed essentially constant and that energy use "presents a clear growth tendency" except in periods of economic crisis.
Note that the sustainable level is around 2.6 ha/person, which was exceeded around 1965. Later on in the report the planetary biocapacity is quoted at 1.8 ha/person. Considering that most footprints have stayed essentially constant it's energy use that's responsible for unsustainability. The legend on the right is "artificialised" (?), "forestry", "energy", "fishing", "husbandry", "agriculture".
Now, where does the energy footprint come from?
The lion's share (currently 48%) comes from consumer goods, mostly imported. That is, Spain is exporting its global share of ecological footprint (1.8 ha/person, remember, times 45 million people) to the countries where our cheap junk is manufactured. The impact of transport is the second most important.
Spain's biocapacity hasn't started to erode until around 2000
which means in 2000 Spain was exporting 50% of its ecological footprint.
The report ends with three scenarios for the period to 2020:
- Scenario A: assumes that the main variables influencing the ecological footprint continue on the current trends.
- Scenario B: assumes that sustainability targets are substantially met and variables without set targets improve.
- Scenario C: assumes that targets are exceeded and variables without set targets experience a remarkable improvement.
The results are not encouraging.
- Scenario A: predicts an economic slowdown in 2010-2015 and a final footprint of 8 ha/person with a deficit of nearly 6 ha/person (capacity would have eroded by 20%, then)
- Scenario B: manages to keep the 2020 footprint at the 2005 values,
- Scenario C: the footprint is reduced to 5 ha/person with a deficit of 2.6 ha/person (and a reduction of the biocapacity by about 10%)
Assuming no economic growth, scenario C achieved a reduction to 4.5 ha/person.
In other words, we're screwed, and promising "growth" is positively irresponsible.