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Humanity falls deeper into ecological debt: study
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Sept 20, 2011

Humankind will slip next week into ecological debt, having gobbled up in less then nine months more natural resources than the planet can replenish in a year, researchers said Tuesday.

The most dominant species in Earth's history, in other words, is living beyond the planet's threshold of sustainability, trashing the house it lives in.

At its current pace of consumption humankind will need, by 2030, a second globe to satisfy its voracious appetites and absorb all its waste, the report calculated.

Earth's seven billion denizens -- nine billion by mid-century -- are using more water, cutting down more forests and eating more fish than Nature can replace, it said.

At the same time, we are disgorging more CO2, pollutants and chemical fertilizers than the atmosphere, soil and oceans can soak up without severely disrupting the ecosystems that have made our planet such a comfortable place for homo sapiens to live.

Counting down from January 1, the date when human activity exceeds its budget -- dubbed "Earth Overshoot Day" -- had receded by about three days each year since 2001.

The tipping point into non-sustainability happened sometime in the 1970s, said the Oakland, California-based Global Footprint Network, which issued the report.

This year, researchers estimate that the equivalent of Earth's resource quota will be depleted on September 27.

"That's like spending your annual salary three months before the year is over, and eating into savings year after year," Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel said in a statement.

"Pretty soon, you run out of savings."

Even as Earth's capacity to host our ever-expanding species diminishes, the demands on "ecosystem services" -- the term scientists use to describe Nature's bounty -- continues to grow.

"From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means," Wackernagel said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier this month said sustainable development now tops the global agenda of issues demanding urgent action.

"Overshoot" is driven by three factors: how much we consume, the global population, and how much Nature can produce.

Technology has vastly boosted productivity of edible plants and animals, but that expansion has barely kept pace with the rate at which demand has increased, the report said.

As critical, it has not taken into account all the collateral damage inflicted on the environment.

The United States is the biggest ecological deficit spender, according to an earlier calculation by the same group.

If all people adopted the American lifestyle -- big house, two cars, huge per-capita energy consumption -- the world's population would need about five "Earths" to meet its needs.

By contrast, if everyone on Earth matched the average footprint of someone in India today, humanity would be using less than half the planet's biocapacity.

But as India, China and other emerging giants continue to grow their economies at breakneck pace -- fuelled in large part by the desire for a "Western" lifestyle -- that per-capita footprint will become much larger, scientists warn.

Already today, for example, China is the top emitter of greenhouse gases and the top producer of automobiles.

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Residents want China plant moved over pollution
Haining, China (AFP) Sept 20, 2011 - Residents have called for authorities to move a polluting solar panel factory in eastern China, locals and media said Tuesday as anger simmered after days of violent environmental protests.

Authorities shut down the plant -- found to be emitting excessive levels of potentially toxic fluoride -- Monday after hundreds protested in Zhejiang province's Haining city, but locals are still concerned about their health.

"The plant should be knocked down. That's the only way to solve the problem," a young man living near the factory, who declined to be named, told AFP.

Zhou Jiuguan, who grew up in the area, also called for the plant to be relocated. "But with the money involved, it's impossible," he said.

State media reported that the 500 protesters who stormed the factory -- operated by the US-listed company Jinko Solar -- last week were demanding an explanation for the deaths of large numbers of fish in a nearby river.

On Monday, Haining's city government announced the temporary shut-down of the factory after tests showed it was emitting excessive levels of fluoride, which can be toxic in high doses.

It added Tuesday that a total of 31 people had been detained over the protests and another 100 were to be given "legal re-education", which normally involves giving minor offenders classes about the nation's legal system.

It had earlier put that number at 21, including one man held for spreading "rumours" online about people living near the plant allegedly suffering from disease.

The incident came just one month after authorities in the northeastern port city of Dalian agreed to relocate a chemical plant following similar protests, underscoring official concern over mounting public anger about pollution.

On Tuesday, the area around the plant in Haining appeared quiet, bar a single police road block leading up to the factory.

"Everything is toxic with regards to producing (solar) cells. It stinks whenever I pass by," the Oriental Morning Post cited a resident surnamed Wang as saying, adding that many locals were hoping the plant would be moved.

A spokeswoman for Jinko Solar -- quoting chief financial officer Zhang Longgen -- told AFP Tuesday that the firm "is not in the position to make the decision" on whether the factory should be relocated, without elaborating.

She insisted that facilities at the plant met environmental standards.

Jinko apologised on Monday for what it said had been a leak. Waste containing fluoride had been stored outside the factory, it said, but polluted a nearby river after heavy rains in late August.

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China shuts factory after violent pollution protests
Haining, China (AFP) Sept 19, 2011
China shut down a solar panel factory on Monday after hundreds of angry residents staged days of violent protests over pollution, the second such incident in as many months. A large red sign at the entrance to the factory in the eastern city of Haining announced the temporary closure, which came a month after authorities agreed to relocate a chemical plant following protests over pollution f ... read more

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