By Bob Douglas, Canberra Regional Meeting.

This is a report from a summer school at the Yearly Meeting that included 16 participants from all of the Australian Quaker Regional Meetings. The discussion and review of evidence on ecological footprints left participants deeply concerned at the seriousness of the human predicament. But the group agreed that it is still possible to take positive action at various levels that will assist in amelioration of the impact of a gathering storm of problems that threaten human wellbeing and survival everywhere.

The ominous fact that emerges from well-validated ecological footprint analysis is that It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what the world’s human population uses each year. We are maintaining this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources, increasing greenhouse gases and reducing the stock of biologically active land and water at the very time that human demands for them are increasing.

Humanity needs what nature provides, but how do we know how much we are using and how much we have left to use? The Ecological Footprint has emerged as the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. This accounting system tracks the human footprint in global hectares and measures how much biologically active land and water a human population uses to provide all it takes from nature. The accounting system also measures bio-capacity, which is how much biologically productive area is available to the world to provide these services. Footprint methodology is validated science and is being used nationally and internationally by governments and civil institutions to monitor human impact on the environment.

The global situation is that since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot, with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. This overshoot is increasing and is set to go on increasing unless, as a species, we urgently change the way we organise the human world. On our present trajectory the world’s bio-capacity by 2050 will be less than half of humanity’s footprint.

Further, the gross inequity of the current situation is illustrated by the following:

  • For the 15% of the world population who live in high-income countries, the average footprint is 6.4 global hectares per person. A global hectare is roughly the size of soccer field.
  • For the 48% of the world’s population who live in medium-income countries, the average footprint is 1.9 global hectares per person.
  • For the 37% of the world’s population who live in low-income countries the average footprint is 0.8 global hectares per person.
  • Currently for a population of 7 billion people there is enough biologically active land for about 1.8 hectares per person and the available bio-capacity is declining drastically as our human numbers increase and as our individual demands increase with economic growth.

Governments everywhere are acting as though this is not happening. In the words of British journalist George Monbiot, In 2012 governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority over an immediate concern, however trivial. I believe there has been no worse year for the natural world in the past half-century…… If there is hope, it lies with the people. Opinion polls show that voters do not support their governments’ inaction. In the US, 80 per cent of people polled now say that climate change will be a serious problem for their country if nothing is done about it, a substantial rise since 2009. The problem is that most people are not prepared to act on these beliefs. Citizens have turned their faces away. To avoid another terrible year like 2012, we must translate these passive concerns into a mass mobilisation. Grassroots groups such as show how it might be done. If this annus horribilis tells us anything, it is that action, in the absence of such mobilisation, is simply not going to happen. Governments care only as much as their citizens force them to care. Nothing changes unless we change.”

As a result of continuing population and economic growth, the parlous state of the earth is certain to worsen unless there is a radical change in the operation of the global economy and in the human mindset. About half of the human ecological footprint is attributable to carbon dioxide emissions. We know how to reduce these and by weaning our species off energy derived from fossil fuels, humanity’s footprint could be very significantly and rapidly reduced towards earth’s bio-capacity. The footprint approach broadens our understanding of the environmental problem. It incorporates not only the threat of climate change, but all of the other things we are doing to the environment on which our future depends. By measuring and monitoring the ecological footprint of an individual, city, business, nation, or all of humanity—we can monitor our pressure on the planet. This enables us to manage our ecological assets more wisely and take personal and collective action in support of a world where humanity could live within the resource constraints of a single earth.

Members of the summer school agreed that our species is heading for early eco-catastrophe if we continue with “business as usual”. Transformative change is urgently required that will alter the way we manage the environment, the economy and our lives The core problems are unconstrained growth in human numbers and in the human economy.

“Only cancers keep on growing and they kill their host in the end.”


We recognised that nothing short of rapid emergency mobilization – as in wartime – and a rethinking of the purpose and operation of the human economy will change the downward trajectory of human society. That is the context in which we need to consider our roles as responsible citizens and as Quakers.

We considered the current situation from the perspective of individuals, the Quaker Community, Australian governments and the entire global community and identified a series of activities that could help to launch the revolutionary change in human behaviour that is essential.

As Individuals, we need:

  • To learn to thrive and flourish while living simply.
  • Make use of the rich resources available on the web to understand our own and our household’s footprint and the footprint of our postcode, our city, our state, our businesses and our institutions.
  • To join groups outside Quakers and add our insights and impact to groups that are moving to heighten community understanding and commitment to tackle this issue.
  • To sow seeds with our friends about the nature of the footprint challenge and ways it can be addressed.
  • To Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Specifically, we discussed the value of “Assertive Refusal” where we make it abundantly clear to others that we refuse to participate in certain accepted activities like use of cars and planes, because of their impact on the ecological footprint and the flow on discomfort about the status quo that this can produce in others.
  • To use our financial expenditures and investments in ways that will promote reduction rather then expansion of the human footprint.

As Quakers we need to:

  • Join with like-minded groups to build pressure for development of an economic system that promotes prosperity without growth, rewards partnerism, compassion, nurturing and sharing and reduces the emphasis on competition, domination and control.
  • Consider the possibility of developing a Quaker Manifesto for Eco-Centric Living
  • Measure and make visible the footprint of our institutions and activities.
  • Promote the understanding that human society is now in an emergency situation brought about by our anthropocentric mindset.
  • Plan all of our activities in the context of ecological footprint.

We should act to encourage all Australian governments:

  • To take the footprint emergency seriously, by acknowledging its reality and moving to an emergency “war-time” footing to reduce the nation’s ecological footprint, which is among the largest in the world.
  • To place very high priority on renewable energy and rebuild support for sustainable agriculture activities.
  • To phase out Australian dependency on fossil fuel derived energy in the next ten years and consider the merits to the global footprint of ceasing all Australian exports of all fossil fuels.
  • To maximise resource use efficiency. Stop perverse subsidies for water and power
  • Build on the sustainability curriculum requirement in school curricula to empower every Australian school child with an understanding of the opportunities and benefits of responding to the footprint challenge now rather than later.
  • Consider legislation to require footprint labelling of all manufactured foods and consumer goods.
  • To strengthen public transport in all our cities, including education of the population about its benefits.

At the international level, Quakers should be advocating for:

  • A profound remaking of the global economy aimed at prosperity without growth and maximising efficiency in the use of non renewable resources
  • A massive international effort to enhance footprint equity.
  • The end of the arms trade.
  • Education of girls everywhere and support for family planning measures.
  • The countries that have the biggest footprints should bear the greatest burden.

We also discussed the task of communicating the crisis to the Australian people and in that context the following issues were highlighted.


· The need for a sector on the ABC and other news bulletins that relates to progress in reducing the nation’s ecological footprint.

· Education through schools and the media about the merits of footprint labeling of food and other consumer goods.

· The creative use of social media to expand community understanding of ways to avert the impending crisis.

· The need for broader appreciation of the importance of Refusing, Reducing, Re-using and Recycling and consistency across Australia in the capacity for everyone to engage in these activities.

· The need for all Australians to understand the costs of burning coal and the benefits of leaving it in the ground.

· The value of informative slogans.

· The role of technology in efficient use of resources

· The uncertainty of what events will bring a tipping point in acceptance that we are in an emergency situation. Will it be economic collapse, massive weather catastrophes, resource wars or the result of broadened understanding of the impossibility of continuation on our present path?

· The obscene inequity of the current global situation where developing countries are being prevented from advancing to anything like our lifestyle by the fact that developed countries, with per capita ecological footprints ten times as great as many developing countries, are impeding the possibility of poor people expanding their footprint and lifting the quality of their lives because of the limits in available global resources.

· The need for feedback systems to monitor progress in our local and regional footprints.

· The need to promote greater understanding of the impact of global and national population growth on genuine wellbeing.

· The unacceptability of a “fortress Australia” approach to the problem. This is an issue in which the whole of humanity will ultimately share.

· The need to understand what will produce maximal impact on the understanding of these issues among young people in a consumer society.

· There is already broad interest in Australian society in renewable energy and the capacity of renewable technology to meet the energy demand.

· The footprint concept is scientifically valid and provides an easily interpretable message that comprehends the full gamut of environmental concerns.

· We must not avoid confronting the idiocy of the current economic framework and we need to engage the community as well as the economists in a reconsideration of the purpose of the economy and its utter dependence on nature.

· Nor should we underestimate the power and influence of vested interests in the media and financial institutions against seriously rethinking the perverse incentives in the current economy.

· But there are valid alternative models that could enrich human life everywhere and the current economic system is on the verge of collapse.

· The crisis relates both to population growth and economic dysfunction.

· There are excellent examples in Australia of what can be accomplished when Quakers and other community bodies work closely together on the sustainability issue.

The summer school agreed that this report of our conclusions should be submitted to Australian Friend and distributed to delegates at the yearly meeting.

Facilitator: Bob Douglas bobdouglas@netspeed, Tel 02 62533138 or 0409233138

Participants Gwyneth Anderton, Mavis Barnard, Ann Britton, Henry Esbenshade, David Evans, Margaret Evans, Gedda Fortey, Joon Garfit, Mary Grbavac, Rae Litting, Ruth Primrose, Ruth Raward, David Rosenberg, David Swain, Rosina Wainwright.


Recommended Web resources

The Global Ecological Footprint Network

Victorian Government Footprint Calculators

The Australian Conservation Foundation Footprint Atlas

Methods of reducing your personal ecological footprint

Greening the church and faith communities.

Canberra Schools 2020 Vision Program dev eloped to support the national curriculum on sustainability.

Transform Australia

Beyond Denial: Managing the uncertainties of global change.

Prosperity without growth. The transition to a sustainable economy

How does societal transformation happen? Quaker Institute for the Future Pamphlet 2012

Agenda for a New Economy; From phantom wealth to real wealth

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