How our footprints are exhausting Earth's budget

Nivedita Khandekar
Nivedita KhandekarAug 02, 2017 | 22:24

How our footprints are exhausting Earth's budget

Haven't we all heard of the story of a foolish man sawing off a branch he was sitting on? Stories are not meant to be just for entertainment. Those are metaphorical lessons for life, which unfortunately many of us forget.

Just like that man sawing off the branch, we the humans are pushing our resources, our earth, our planet beyond its ability to sustain us. Human activities have been the primary drivers of this decline in biodiversity and ecosystem. Result - as pointed out by the World Wide Fund (WWF) India's Living Planet Report (LPR) released in 2016, there has been a staggering 58 per cent decline in global population of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles between 1970 and 2012.


Our ecological footprint - the rate at which we are consuming vis-a-vis the resources generated by the planet - is just too high. We are consuming more than the planet can produce. We are overshooting.

"The global population has grown and the consumption has increased - particularly with respect to carbon emissions. The Earth Overshoot Day has moved from September in 1997 to August 2 this year, the earliest since ecological overshoot began in the early 1970s," according to Global Footprint Network. "Ending today (August 2), humanity will have used nature's budget for the entire year. For the rest of the year, we will live on credit, basically, using more resources than the planet can renew in a year."

Says Sejal Worah, programme director at the WWF-India, "The message for our planet is clear and one we cannot ignore. The future lies in development trajectories that also reduce humanity's ecological footprint. We need to adopt innovative technology and sustainable lifestyles and to preseve this planet, citizens, business and government must all play their part".

India's carbon footprint scenario

The past few days have been a mixed bag for news on the green climate front. In what was described by Suresh Prabhu, Union minister for railways as a "path breaking leap" towards making trains more environment-friendly, the Indian Railways recently unveiled diesel electric multiple units (DEMU) with solar power generation facility on their roof tops.


The ministry of railways has planned similar 24 more coaches of DEMU trains. As per a news report in The Hindu, a solar-powered DEMU train with six trailer coaches will save about 21,000 litres of diesel, thereby saving Rs 12 lakh every year.

Further, the railway ministry has also announced to work on technologies that enable 40 per cent substitution of diesel by CNG in locomotives and nine-zoned solar panels on DEMUs. This will help it in achieving its "Mission 41K" to reduce the carbon footprint.

Another sector that is known for one of the biggest carbon footprints is the construction industry. The real estate sector accounts for almost one-fourth of India's total carbon dioxide emissions that come mainly from manufacturing processes for construction materials such as steel, cement and brick.

pollution_080217101041.jpgIndia is also expecting to enhance carbon sequestration by about 100 million CO2 equivalent annually. Photo: Reuters

On the one hand, there is a shortage of few million homes, especially in urban areas, while on the other hand there is a constant demand for offices, airports and factories.

Exactly to address this problem, India's top builders have pledged to make at least a fifth of their new housing developments sustainable by 2022, a media report said. The campaign, led by Sustainable Housing Leadership Consortium, proposes to "use mainly local and recycled material, and design homes that conserve water and electricity, making best use of natural light and wind patterns, while pursuing energy-efficient methods of construction".


But when different sectors are planning - and some have already started - good steps for a lesser carbon footprint, the nodal ministry for ensuring that the environment is protected is planning to dilute its protocol. The ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF) has proposed amendments to the Environment Protection Act which, experts say, will "alter the compliance regime" that will "effectively reduce environmental regulation to mere managerialism".

Among other points in their critique/working paper "From Prior to Post: Legalising environmental violations", Krithika Dinesh and Kanchi Kohli of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) have clearly pointed out how the proposed changes will give violators "a licence to 'pollute and pay' and this measure is neither likely to reduce the adverse impact on environment nor the overall risk to public health caused due to the violations".

This is happening when India has, as per its action plan (formally, the INDCs) to combat climate change submitted a huge range of initiatives to the United Nations.

India has promised to increase its renewable energy target to a massive 175GW, of which solar energy is expected to rise to 100GW by 2022.

India is also expecting to enhance carbon sequestration by about 100 million CO2 equivalent annually.

But even when various departments, ministries and agencies are on course to achieve this target, loopholes exist and government policies, such as this proposed amendment in the Environment Protection Act only allow the violators to have a field day.

Checking the violator has never been an easy task. And it is not just the big industries or for that matter the government/s that violate. The community at large is never ready to look at the sustainability aspect.

The world is facing an extreme climate emergency. Slashing fossil fuel usage, reducing carbon footprint is of utmost importance. But this is easier said than done.

But then there are ways to chip in with whatever little one can. Time to ask yourself: What is my ecological footprint? Have I done enough to maintain species balance on this planet?

If not anything else, am I successfully using the 3Rs principle - Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle. Reduce the use of resources, re-use resources/derivatives and re-cycle whatever is possible.

Last updated: April 22, 2018 | 11:03
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