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Conservationists Warn of Ecological Credit Crunch

A report by a number of leading conservation groups warns that unless prompt corrective measures are taken, the planet is heading toward an ecological credit crunch. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

The report is simple and stark. Our demands on natural resources overreach what the Earth can sustain by almost a third.

The World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London and Global Footprint Network all worked jointly on what is called the Living Planet Report. And these groups conclude that more than three-quarters of the world's population lives in countries where consumption levels are simply outstripping environmental renewal. They say that we collectively are taking more out of the environment than we are replacing.

"What the report shows is that there are quite stable wildlife populations in western Europe and other temperate zones. But in the countries we are consuming most from, in the tropics, those are where there are quite rapid collapses. So we have got to take responsibility for our own consumption because that is impacting on some of the most vulnerable and diverse ecosystems on the planet," said David Norman, the director of British campaigns at the World Wildlife Fund.

In practical terms, Norman says the environmental damage being done in the developing world is tied to the wants and needs of the developed world.

"We are seeing massive forest clearances for example. Still in the Amazon, it is under great pressure and often that is to produce the kinds of goods and services that we need, that we consume in the richer world," added Norman.

For the first time, the report includes a section on what is being called our water footprint. That is a way of estimating not only the water we use everyday, but also the water that is required to make many of the products we use, like for instance, a cotton shirt. Norman says the water footprint takes into account, in this case, the water required to grow the cotton for the shirt.

"We need to manage that water more carefully to ensure that everyone has their fair share," continued Norman.

Overall, the report concludes that if our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, then in just 25 years, we would need the equivalent of two Earths to maintain our present lifestyles.

The WWF's international president says that while about $2 trillion may have been lost recently in the global credit crunch, each year more than twice that figure is lost forever in resources that are taken globally and not renewed.