BRUSSELS (AFP) - If every human being on earth today began consuming and polluting at the rate of the average North American or Western European, at least two more planets would be needed to provide the necessary resources, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned Friday.
"What we are doing now is using up the capital of the earth's resources when we should be living on its interest," Jonathan Loh, author of the WWF's Living Planet Report 2000, told a press conference.
"We are overdrawing on the natural capital, resulting in a depletion of that capital. We don't get bank statements, so this goes largely unnoticed," he said.
"But clearly this is not sustainable. We need to live on the interest, we cannot go on depleting the earth's capital. There's a limit to how much we can deplete."
By capital, Loh said, take a forest. By interest, take the number of trees that can be cut from that forest which the forest is capable of renewing through natural growth.
The applies for oceans and fish as well as emissions of pollutants such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which can be naturally absorbed and neutralized, he said.
The total of humanity's harvesting of natural resources from the earth's 12.5 billion hectares (30.88 billion acres) of productive surface is called an "ecological footprint," and this, said the WWF, has doubled since the mid-1960s.
"The ecological footprint of the average consumer in North Amerca and Western Europe is vastly in excess of that of an average consumer in the developing world," said Loh.
"There is about a four-fold disparity between rich and poor nations in pressure on the earth's ecosystem."
"As an economist by profession," said Ruud Lubbers, WWF president and former Dutch Prime Minister, "I would say the world is living in a big boom. It's enormous.
"The economy is booming worldwide in terms of production and success of big business," he said. "But what about living in harmony with nature? There, the message is very gloomy.
"Altogether, it's not a nice picture."
Lubbers acknowledged it was unrealistic to expect the world's relatively rich to make do with one car when they could afford three, or two televisions when they can afford one in every room.
"But it's doable to change our patterns of production and consumption, making them more environmentally friendly, taking into account what nature can handle," he said.
Also, "reaching out to poor countries and empowering them to use good technology, good systems ... making them real partners. If we can do that," he said, "than we can live together on the one planet we have today.
"If at the end of the day we have to make a choice, let's go for a bit of austerity," said Lubbers.
"We have a responsibility to generations yet unborn."
The European Commission's environment department is, in fact, preparing a report for the EU summit at Gottenberg, Sweden, next June on the sustainability of natural resources.
Spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said commission president Romano Prodi was chairing a sustainability group, "but it's really in its early days, sort of a general sustainability strategy, taking all economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability into account.
"It's really on the drawing board for the moment," she said.