Friday, 07 September 2012 13:30

What is an Ecological Footprint?

Written by  Jessie
Graph showing ecological footprints of nations along with the Human Development Index (a measure of quality of life) Graph showing ecological footprints of nations along with the Human Development Index (a measure of quality of life) Travelplanner/CC BY-SA 3.0

We’ve already examined and defined a carbon footprint, but have you ever heard of an ecological footprint?  An ecological footprint compares human demands on nature with the Earth's ability to regenerate resources and provide services.

Ecological footprints are ever changing because of advances in technology and a three-year lag for the UN to collect and publish statistics.  However, it is a standardized measure that begins by assessing the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population uses.  This is then contrasted with the planet’s ability to absorb associated waste and ecological capacity to regenerate.  Think of it like how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity given an average lifestyle.  In 2007, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths.  This means humans are currently using ecological services 1.5 times quicker than Earth can renew them.

William Rees was the first academic to publish about an ecological footprint in 1992.  He supervised the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel who outlined the concept and offered a calculation method.  Rees penned the term ecological footprint in a more accessible manner than the original name of “appropriated carrying capacity” after a computer technician described Rees’ new computer as having a small footprint on the desk.  Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth in early 1996.

The implications are dire according to Rees who wrote in 2010, “…the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of ‘natural capital’.”

We’re definitely overspending the planet’s resources.  Just take a look at man-made global warming and climate change.   We need to continue on the path to seeking a sustainable lifestyle, and do it on a global scale.  All of us working together can reduce the amount of the earth’s resources that we consume.  Start with yourself and get creative with how many ways you can save energy and recycle.  What’s great about beginning with energy efficiency is that it can save you money too.  Then there are cost effective ways to offset the rest such as by contributing to’s development of renewable energy technologies and carbon emissions reduction projects.  The important thing is to get started right away.

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