- 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
https://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/ (Click “Enter.”)
Mathis Wackernagel at TEDx San Franciso
A 16 minute talk by Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, describing how much nature we have and use https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M29BY86bP4&feature=youtu.be
Go to 2. Activity: Determining Your Ecological Footprint on the next page to complete the assignment.
2. Activity: Determining Your Ecological Footprint
In this exercise, you will utilize an online calculator to examine your ecological footprint, compare it to the average footprint in the United States and other countries, and critically examine ways to reduce it. We will utilize an online Ecological Footprint Quiz for our analyses.
Calculating Your Ecological Footprint:
- Go to this site: http://www.footprintcalculator.org. Click on “CALCULATE YOUR FOOTPRINT” located on the very top of the page, right side. (Alternatively if you do not see that link, scroll down a bit. Under the words “What is your impact? Calculate your Ecological Footprint and personal Overshoot Day,” there is a “CALCULATE NOW!” button/link. Click/press on it.) On the page that opens, click “TAKE THE FIRST STEP” and log in with Facebook or continue as guest with your email (you can even put in a fake email if you’re concerned about that.) You will go through a series of questions.
- Be honest and don’t try to impress anyone! Once you complete the calculator, you will get a number of acres that it takes to support you.
- (5 points) Fill in the blank: Total number of gha need to support me. _____________
- (10 points) To complete the table look at the bar graphs generated, place your mouse over each category and you will get a number of gha (global hectares) for each. Fill in each box below with that gha number. Then you will calculate the percentage of each category. For example, if your total ecological footprint in gha was 7.9 and food counted for 1.6, then you will need to divide 1.6 by 7.9 and multiply by 100 to get 20%.
|Footprint Area (gha)||Percentage of Total|
- (15 points) The average footprint per capita for the United States in 2016 was 8.1 gha which ranked the 6th highest in the world. (Go here and scroll to the bottom of the page to find average footprints for other countries.)
How does your Total Footprint compare to the US average? Did this surprise you? Why do you think your footprint is different than the U.S. average?
- (5 points) How many Earths would be needed to support the human population if everyone lived like you? Provide some discussion on what this number means to you.
- (10 points) Return to the Ecological Footprint Quiz and click the orange button below that says “Re-take the Quiz.” Make one reasonable change that would reduce your ecological footprint (for instance, drive less, or buy a more efficient car). To do this, simply change one of the answers in the quiz and continue going through the whole quiz until you get to the end. Describe the change and record the reduction in Total Footprint that resulted in the table below. After recording the change, click on “Re-take the Quiz,” and repeat the procedure for two remaining changes.
|Reduction Total Footprint (gha)|
- (5 points) By what percentage did your total footprint go down after all three changes had been made?
- (15 points) Seeing the reductions in footprint that occur as a result of these changes, would you be willing to immediately implement any of them? Explain why or why not using at least 5 well-written sentences.
- (5 points) We will now explore average ecological footprints for various countries. Go to https://www.footprintnetwork.org/. Scroll down a bit. Under the words “Passionate about data? Check out our Ecological Footprint Explorer open data platform,” there is a “DIVE INTO DATA!” button/link. Click/press on it. (Alternatively if you do not see the button, you can scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, and under “TOOLS & RESOURCES,” click the “Open Data Platform” link.) On the page that appears, click “Enter.” You’ll see a clickable map of the world which shows each country’s Ecological Deficit/Reserve. Now, select three countries with similar standards of living (compare U.S./Canada to countries in Western Europe) and three countries with different standards of living (compare U.S./Canada to developing countries in South America, Africa, or Asia). List the “Ecological Footprint” and “Biocapacity” value for your six chosen comparison countries in the table below. Then, subtract the number of acres for Ecological Footprint from Biocapacity to find the Ecological Deficit or Reserve (a negative number will be a deficit, positive a reserve).
|Country||Ecological Footprint (gha)||Biocapacity (gha)||Ecological Deficit or Reserve
|United States||8.1 gha||3.6 gha||3.6 – 8.1 = -4.5 gha deficit|
13) (10 points) Choose at least one “similar” country and one “different” country from the table you just filled in and provide some analysis on how it compares with your country.
14) (20 points) In today’s global economy, goods flow from one country to another like never before, allowing the natural capital from one country to be utilized in many other countries. Some have argued that it is unethical for developed countries to fuel their consumptive lifestyles by using natural capital from poorer, developing countries. Do you agree with this viewpoint? Why or why not? Use at least 5 well-written sentences to explain.