Ecological Footprint: Script

What is our ecological footprint? Today we are going to use illustrations to better understand what it is and how we fit on the planet. Now, let’s get drawing!

This is what we need to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste we produce: 1.5 planets. That means that it takes about a year and a half for our planet to regenerate what we use in a year. The Global Footprint Network calculates every year Earth overshoot day and in 2013 it was on August 19th: that was the day when we finished using our resources for the year. Think about it as a bank account: for the first 7 months and 20 days we lived on our annual revenue. After that, we spent our capital. Humm. Seems like there is something wrong with that math…

Our ecological footprint measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we use (things like energy, food, land for settlements, timber, seafood) and to absorb the waste we generate. Our biocapacity is the amount of biologically productive area available to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. So we can compare footprint and biocapacity to see if we are well balanced or not. Let’s dig into that a little…

I live in Canada. Our ecological footprint in 2007 (published in 2010) was 7.01 meaning that to provide what we consume every year, we need 7.01 global hectares per person (gha/pers). But we live in a huge country and our biocapacity was actually 14.92 gha/pers so if we do the math 14.92-7.01=7.91 so technically we are an “ecological creditor” country. Does that mean that it is okay to consume as much as we do? Well, not really. If the whole world lived like us, we would need more than 4 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste, because not every nation has so much land, such huge forests and so many other natural resources.

The USA has a footprint of 8 and a biocapacity of 3.87, so 3.87-8=-4.13: they are a big “ecological debtor” country. This is actually the case of most developed countries.

Among the smaller footprints is the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 0.75. Although it is not an economically rich country at all, it has a biocapacity of 2.76 so you see that it is also an ecological creditor country (2.76-0.75=2.01).

The Global Footprint Network published the footprint in low-, middle- and high-income countries between 1961 and 2008. Here is the world’s average biocapacity. What do you notice? It’s systematically decreasing. So the story basically reads, the wealthier people are, the bigger their footprint. When we can afford it, it’s hard to resist I guess! This is confirmed by the fact that 17% of the world’s population consumes 80% of the world’s resources. So the main problem is not the absolute lack of resources; it is the fact that our global consumption is extremely uneven and inefficient.

These were footprints for Nations but you can also measure the ecological footprint of an individual, a city, a business or all of humanity to assess our pressure on the planet. I calculated my own personal footprint on the Global Footprint Network website and it is around 5.5. Why is it significantly less than Canada’s footprint of 7? Well, mostly thanks to my lifestyle: I rarely eat meat, drive very little, live in a highly energy efficient house, and so on. You can go and calculate your own if you like, I included the link below.

The Ecological Footprint is a really useful way of understanding our relationship to the planet, and how the ways in which we live impact our ability to survive and thrive as a race over time. Try it – you may find it interesting!

As usual here are the key points to keep in mind:

  • Humanity uses more resources than the Earth provides.
  • The main problem is not the absolute lack of resources; it is the fact that our global consumption is unevenly distributed and favours only a few. It’s also extremely inefficient.
  • Ecological footprint is a great tool to assess the pressure we put on the planet. It helps us keep the big picture in mind and not get lost in the details.

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