1. Ecological Footprint
Estimating your overall impact on the environment is a daunting task when you consider all the variables involved. A tool for roughly estimating your environmental impact has been developed and it presents the information in a manner that is easily visualized despite the underlying complexities.
It is known as an “ecological footprint”, and it describes the area of land needed to supply the resources used and wastes produced by each individual. Nature’s ability to provide resources and process wastes is known as “natural capital”, and the goal of sustainable living is to use resources wisely so as to avoid depleting natural capital, enabling it to be available to future generations.
Ecological footprint analysis allows us to examine per-capita (per-person) utilization of natural capital (globally or by nation), the amount of natural capital available (globally or by nation), and the surplus/deficit in natural capital globally or in individual countries. We can then examine the impact of humans on the Earth’s natural capital on the whole or by individual nation.
Ecological footprints are calculated by examining the amount of land used for:
(a.) Cultivating food crops
(b.) Grazing livestock
(c.) Growing timber
(d.) Harvesting fish and other organisms from oceans
(e.) Housing, infrastructure (roads, bridges), transportation, shopping, energy production
(f.) Sequestering in trees the carbon dioxide produced by driving, electricity usage, etc.
By summing all of these land areas, an individual’s ecological footprint can be calculated. So how much natural capital is there per person? If we take the current global population and divide it by the number of acres (or hectares, in metric measurement) of biologically productive land, we find that there are currently 4.7 acres of productive land on the planet per person. Therefore, in order to live sustainably, each person on the planet should have an ecological footprint of 4.7 acres of less. While individuals in developing countries often have footprints at or below this value, citizens of highly industrialized countries often exceed it by sizable amount.
What is the connection between ecological footprints and biodiversity?
In order for natural ecosystems to persist and support the diversity of other organisms on the planet, area must be set aside from development and utilization. As the human population grows and demands on resources become ever larger, the ability to preserve large areas of natural habitat become more problematic, and biodiversity initiatives suffer.
In addition to preserving biodiversity, reducing humanity’s ecological footprint has a number of other positive results. A great source for learning about the ecological footprint is from the Global Footprint Network (https://www.footprintnetwork.org). Some of the pages you should look into are highlighted below.
About the Ecological Footprint
FAQ about the Ecological Footprint.
Ecological Wealth of Nations
Interactive maps giving a variety of perspectives regarding the ecological footprint and biocapacity
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