Who’s putting pressure on the planet?

There’s no doubt that this planet is under pressure – but where is that pressure coming from? Who or what has driven three planetary boundaries to be breached, and caused the stress to be rising on many others?

This 9 minute video dives into the extraordinary inequalities of resource use – within and between countries – that lie behind the story of humanity’s pressure at the global scale. Focusing on nitrogen pollution, freshwater use, climate change, and land use change, it starts to reveal who is putting pressure on the planet.

Did you know:

• Thanks to nitrogen fertilizer run off from America’s agricultural heartlands, there is a deadzone the size of Massachussetts in the Gulf of Mexico.

• If Europe turned vegetarian, its nitrogen pollution would fall by 70% (OK, some people say they would miss the parma ham, but you get the point)

• The UK imports two thirds of the water it uses – mostly in agricultural products – and some of it comes from countries that face water stress or that are home to communities facing water poverty.

• The average Qatari produces the same greenhouse gas emissions as 3 Americans, 11 Mexicans or 80 Ghanaians.

• In the UK, the richest 10% of people produce twice the CO2 emissions of the poorest 10%. In Sweden, it’s four times as much. In China, 18 times.

• China’s land footprint per person is one fifth of America’s – and America’s is one sixth of Australia’s.

Fascinating stuff. But there’s not nearly enough accurate and disaggregated data available at the moment on how unequal and how concentrated humanity’s use of natural resources is, either within or between countries. This will surely change over the next decade, as the pressure to create equitable governance of the planet’s resources (at every scale, local to global) drives demand for more information on who is using what. And that information will be measured in ‘natural metrics’ such as water, nitrogen, land, and carbon footprints per person. In fact I’ll bet that the extremes of resource-use inequalities within and between countries will come to be seen to be as important as income inequalities. And if this gradual shift towards assessing development pathways in natural metrics plays a part in widening policy-making attention beyond monetary metrics, that’ll be no bad thing.

Many thanks to Lisa Dittmar for researching and producing this video with me.

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