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Canada and U.S. Among Top 10 Fossil-Fuel Gluttons: WWF

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Canada is one of the world’s most gluttonous consumers of climate-changing fossil fuels, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) said on Tuesday, with an ecological footprint per average Canadian that’s 2.5 greater than that of the typical planetary citizen.

“More than half of that Canadian footprint is coming from the consumption of fossil fuels, such as gasoline and the resulting heat-trapping gases that cause global warming,” the conservation group said in its biennial Living Planet Report, according to Postmedia News.

WWF International released the report in conjunction with the Zoological Society of London, the Global Footprint Network and the European Space Agency. Canada is just part of the problem, according to the report. The world’s people in general are consuming much more than the earth can replenish. In fact it takes 1.5 years to put back what we use collectively in a year, the report said.

Canada is just one of the top 10 most polluting countries ranked in the WWF’s biennial Living Planet Index. Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates head the list, with Denmark, Belgium, the U.S. and Australia appearing before Canada. The Netherland and Ireland complete the top 10.

In a nutshell, collectively the world’s inhabitants are consuming resources faster than Mother Earth can replenish them, the report said. This is at least partly because of a reliance on the natural world that we’re unaware of—in other words, taking Earth’s gifts for granted.

The index marks a 30 percent decrease in biodiversity since 1970, the report said, with the tropics’ biodiversity dropping 60 percent. The temperate regions' biodiversity rose by 31 percent, but they were recovering from losses last century.

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Another disturbing trend is the growing gap between materially wealthy and poor countries, the report said. High-income countries’ footprint is five times that of low-income nations, CNN noted. And from 1970 to 2008 the high-income nations’ footprint increased by seven percent, while that of poor countries dropped 60 percent.

"Growing external resource dependencies are putting countries at significant risk," said Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, as quoted by CNN. "Using ever more nature, while having less, is a dangerous strategy, yet most countries continue to pursue this path.”

In fact it would take 3.5 planets to meet the demand for resources if everyone took in as much as the average Canadian, Postmedia News reported from the WWF.

"Clearly, the current system of human development, based on increased consumption and a reliance on fossil fuels, combined with a growing human population and poor overall management and governance of natural resources, is unsustainable," Postmedia News said, quoting the report. "Many countries and populations already face a number of risks from biodiversity loss, degraded ecosystem services and climate change."

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper would seem to be heading in the other direction of late, with its withdrawal from the Kyoto Accords last year and the 2012 budget's focus on streamlining environmental approvals for projects emanating from the Alberta oil sands, such as Enbridge Corp.'s contested Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, which is highly controversial in the United States.

"Canadians are blessed with vast natural resources, but without better stewardship and reduced demand on our planet, these will be lost for future generations," said Gerald Butts, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, to Postmedia News. "As a resource-rich country with a resource-based economy, Canada has an important opportunity to protect our environmental and economic future by valuing the natural capital that is fundamental to Canada's economy and identity."

Below, the views from on the ground, with the WWF's Jim Leape describing the report's main points and what it means, and from above, with Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, speaking to us on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) from aboard the International Space Station. Kuipers took some stunning photos of Mother Earth recently that showcased just what he is talking about.