While it would spell doom for Botswana’s beef industry, the cure prescribed for the planet in its latest medical report from the Worldwide Wildlife Fund International, would certainly be welcomed by the Botswana Power Corporation.
The WWF says that in order to achieve zero net deforestation and degradation as well as 100 per cent renewable energy, food consumption patterns in high-income countries (like those in the European Union) will have to change.
“In particular, red meat and dairy consumption, and overall food loss and waste, must decrease in developed countries changing diets ÔÇô particularly by lowering meat consumption,” says the 2012 Living Planet Report.
For Botswana, “lowering meat consumption” would mean losing the lucrative European Union market to which it exports lean beef and on which a majority of rural cattle farmers are most dependent.
Botswana’s relationship with the EU market was never eco-friendly in that the farther food travels to reach consumers, the more carbon it produces. This has prompted some environmentalists in the western world to consume locally and introduced a new term, “locavore” (one who eats food produced in their locale) to the green-revolution vocabulary.
On the other hand, maintaining the status quo also spells doom for the overall health of the planet.
“We are using 50 per cent more resources than the Earth can provide, and unless we change course that number will grow very fast ÔÇô by 2030, even two planets will not be enough,” writes Jim Leape, WWF’s director general, in the preface.
The report says that continued increases in greenhouse gas emissions will irreversibly commit the world to a global average temperature rise of well over 2 degrees Celsius, which will severely disrupt the functioning of almost all global ecosystems and dramatically affect human development and well-being. It adds that the past few decades have been warmer than any other comparable period for at least the last 400 years.
WWF has developed a composite indicator it calls the Living Planet Index (LPI) through which it measures the state of the world’s biological diversity based on population trends of vertebrate species from around the world.
The LPI tracks the per-person resource demand (ecological footprint) and resource supply (bio-capacity). The LPI shows around a 30 per cent global decline in biodiversity health since 1970. This trend is seen across terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, but is greatest for freshwater species, whose populations show an average 37 per cent decline. Although it is not in the worst offenders’ column, Botswana does not come out smelling of roses in the latest report. In the Bechuanaland Protectorate (in 1961 to be precise), the average ecological footprint per person was less than 1 global hectare (gha) per capita.
In 2008, the figure had risen to between 2 and 3 gha. The ecological footprint measures the amount of biologically productive land and water area required to produce the resources an individual, population or activity consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, given prevailing technology and resource management.
This area is expressed in global hectares. The size of a person’s ecological footprint depends on development level and wealth, and in part on the choices individuals make on what they eat, what products they purchase and how they travel.
The total ecological footprint per person in Botswana was 2.84 gha in 2008 and the total bio-capacity for the same year and same unit was 3.76 gha. The latter is defined as the capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to absorb waste materials generated by humans.
A bio-capacity deficit occurs when the ecological footprint exceeds total bio-capacity. Alongside Zambia, Swaziland and Lesotho, Botswana is among the best performers in the Southern African Development Community. Next door South Africa did not do so well. The country’s total ecological footprint per person was 2.59 gha in 2008 and the total bio-capacity for the same year and same unit was 1.21 gha, representing a bio-capacity deficit of 1.38 gha. The report says that bio-capacity per person decreased from 3.2 global hectares (gha) in 1961 to 1.8 gha per capita in 2008, even though total global bio-capacity increased over this time.
Part of the sustainable living necessarily means not living like Americans.
One of the WWF’s prescriptions for improving the health of the planet eco-system is to increase the proportion of electricity produced using renewable energy to cover all global energy needs by 2050 as well as to provide sustainable energy to everyone in areas that are off the grid. Through BPC Lesedi and in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, the Botswana government has started a project to maximise the use of renewable and clean energy in the country, especially in rural areas.