Large footprint endangers the economy

Small countries have to reduce their resource consumption quicker than other countries, says Mathis Wackernagel, the father of the ecological footprint concept. A high dependence on imports is an economic danger in an age of scare resources.

Switzerland has an international reputation as a highly efficient country and is regarded as a world champion when it comes to recycling. But the alpine nation is closing its eyes to a growing danger, warns Mathis Wackernagel.

“In the competition for scare resources, a highly resource-dependent Switzerland will be crushed like a fly,” said the father of the ecological footprint concept in an interview with the Swiss newspaper the Berner Zeitung. “Economic success can only be secured in the long term if it brings its ecological balance under control faster than other countries.”

According to Wackernagel, Switzerland consumes three times more environmental resources than the average available per capita worldwide, and it requires more resources than neighbouring France and Austria.

And while many countries look enviable at Switzerland’s wealth, its economic weight in the world is diminishing because emerging economies are growing faster and increasingly have more financial means to procure resources. “The struggle for resources will be harder not only due to shortages but most especially because of rising competition.”

Wackernagel’s comments come amidst a popular initiative that the Swiss population will vote on in September. The initiators of “For a Green Economy”, which include Wackernagel’s organisation Global Footprint Network, international conservation groups such as WWF and Greenpeace, as well as various political parties and other associations, want the Swiss economy to make efficient use of natural resources from home and abroad. Its aim is to reduce resource consumption by 2050 so it doesn’t exceed the Earth’s projected natural capacity.

As Wackernagel insists, the initiative is not about sacrificing. He and the other proponents argue that while it requires initial financial investments to achieve the initiative’s aims, these would be offset in the long term by the amount saved on resources.

The initiative’s detractors claim otherwise. The Swiss business association economiesuisse made headlines a when it argued that passing the initiative would force the Swiss to take cold showers. While its fear-mongering was widely ridiculed, even the Swiss government opposes the initiative on the grounds while it agrees with its intent, the initiative demands too much in too short a timeframe.

Wackernagel isn’t persuaded, pointing out that the goals of the initiative and a balanced ecological footprint in general are in line with last year’s historic Paris climate agreement.


Image credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

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