Too much consumption: Germany consumes three planets | Knowledge & Environment | DW

Germany has already completely used up its resource budget for the year, almost eight months too early. Despite the economic slowdown the Russian invasion of Ukraine is consuming far more resources in this country than the planet could handle. This is the second time in a row that the Federal Republic of Germany has exceeded the sustainable biological limits on May 4th.

Like last year, the global “Overshoot Day” is expected around July 28. The US non-governmental organization Global Footprint Network has been calculating the ecological footprints of individual countries for three decades , reached as early as never before.

In 1970, the so-called biocapacity of the earth was still completely sufficient to cover the resource needs of mankind within one year. Biocapacity is the ability of ecosystems to both produce biological materials used by humans and to absorb our waste. Half a century later, the planet’s capacities are no longer sufficient.

Today we need about 1.7 planetsto maintain our lifestyle. If the whole world consumed like Germany, we would need three earths. But since we only have one planet, there are inevitably fewer resources available elsewhere. In other words: the costs of overconsumption have to be borne by others, especially countries in the Global South.

Indonesia or Ecuador, for example, only cross their planetary borders in December. At the same time, however, resources are being exploited there in favor of rich countries like Germany.

“Germany is the fifth largest consumer of raw materials in the world and imports up to 99% of minerals and metals from countries in the Global South,” said Lara Louisa Siever, resource equity officer at the German development network INKOTA last year.

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Qatar is the negative leader in 2023. The emirate had already used up all of its renewable resources by February 10th.

Endless growth is not possible with finite resources

But like most highly developed countries, Germany is high on the list. France reaches the border a day later. And Greece, the United Kingdom and Japan will also exceed their limit this month.

“The big problem we have in Germany and in general in the Global North is that we have not yet understood that resources are finite,” says Viola Wohlgemuth, consultant for circular economy and toxins at Greenpeace Germany.

Data from the World Resources Council showed that the “exploitation of resources and their conversion into products” are responsible for 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 90 percent of biodiversity loss. Despite this “enormous resource crisis“Countries like Germany “wouldn’t have learned anything,” said Wohlgemuth.

 Ships and cranes in the container port in Bremerhaven

Germany’s economy is the basis for its prosperity, but it is not sustainable.

According to Berlin climate activist Tadzio Müller, Germany has long been praised as “a prime example of climate virtues”. “Ironically, the reason for this myth of Germany as an eco-champion has nothing to do with German industrial policy or government-level policies, but with powerful social movements.”

Müller points to the anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s and 1980s, the push for renewable energy in medium-sized companies in the country and the recent successful calls by young climate protectors for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Müller believes that German economic policy in particular must change fundamentally, namely the basic driving principle of endless growth. It is necessary if the climate change driven by excessive consumption and the “extremely serious problem of the loss of biological diversity” are to be tackled, said Müller.

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This also applies to the idea of ​​green growth, in his words “electric car capitalism”, which is also based on the massive expansion of resource consumption – especially minerals and rare earths.

Activist with a poster and Jürgen Trittin in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Social movements in particular have driven ecological change

Circular economy indispensable to conserve resources

The federal government is currently debating a strategy for a nationalcircular economy. Müller criticizes that resource consumption should be reduced through more efficient use, but at the same time the growth model should be retained.

For Viola Wohlgemuth there is one holistic circular economy essential to reduce global overconsumption. “We need to change our business models so that products are truly recyclable,” she said, referring to the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle that underpin, for example, the European Green Deal’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Wohlgemuth also calls for a clear upper limit for resource consumption in Germany.

This also includes energy consumption. According to Greenpeace, only a quarter of German gas supplies are used for heating or cooking. A large part of fossil fuels are used for the non-sustainable production of goods.

Germany needs to accelerate emissions cuts quickly

Climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions are a direct result of overproduction and overconsumption and must be reduced quickly if Germany wants to reduce its “overshoot”, says Christoph Bals, political director of the environmental organization Germanwatch. “CO2 emissions in Germany would have to fall three times as fast as they do today.”

Germanwatch sees improved access to low-emission, high-speed rail transport and a restriction on air traffic as effective measures for this. Without a solution to overconsumption, Germany would not be able to live within its means.

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“We look at all the problems separately – climate change, loss of biodiversity or food shortages – as if they were occurring independently,” said Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network.

“But these are all symptoms underlying the same theme: that our collective metabolism, which is the amount of things humanity consumes, has become huge compared to what the Earth can regenerate.”

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