Leaders wanted!

Humanity's footprint is crushing the earth

Claude Martin

Humanity's use of natural resources has exceeded the regenerative capacity of the Earth for the last two decades, and is projected to increase even further. If governments do not take action to halt this then - during the lifetime of our children - human welfare will go into decline.

One might assume that a government's responsibilities include taking care of the long-term prospects of both the society it represents and the world in which that society lives. Yet from the behaviour of many politicians, one could almost think their countries are on a different planet, so little bothered do they seem by the impact of their actions on their own and other societies.

A striking example of the narrow and short-term approach adopted by many governments is the way in which European powers support their fishing industries through massive subsidies. This practice has encouraged massive overfishing, which has led to the near-collapse of European fish stocks in recent years, notably in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea. Alright, so a preference for living today and not thinking about the future might be dismissed as a case of self-inflicted damage. Serves them right if they wipe out their fish, we might conclude. But the overfishing is not limited to European waters, as was shockingly demonstrated at a recent conference in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Senegal and other West African countries share one of the world's most productive coastal fisheries, thanks to the Sahelian upwelling of nutrient-rich waters off their coastline. For centuries the fish stocks off these shores have supported the economies and cultures of hundreds of artisan fishing communities. That, however, has all changed now.

As their own fisheries have gone into decline, foreign fishing fleets - Europeans amongst them - have increasingly been attracted to these fish-rich waters. Technologically sophisticated trawlers and unfair access agreements with African countries strapped for foreign currency have had a devastating impact on the fish stocks. Just how devastating was made plain by some of the world's most renowned fisheries scientists at the Dakar conference: the fish stocks of north-west Africa are as depleted as those of the North Atlantic, and the fisheries are no longer sustainable. This is a serious situation, threatening the development and food security of West African countries in a way that has no parallel in Europe.

'The ecological foorprint is already 20 per cent too great'

What the Europeans are doing is "exporting" the excess capacity of their vastly over-sized fishing fleet of roughly 95,000 boats. In propping up their own unsustainable fishing industry - at taxpayers' expense - they are in the process of destroying the livelihoods of African communities. If European governments do not act by reforming their Common Fisheries Policy at the end of this year, the socio-economic consequences will be disastrous, and not only in West Africa. "Stop overfishing - or fishing will be over", as the WWF slogan says.

But the rampant overfishing practised by industrialized