The Ecological Footprint

Submitted by admin on 28. May 2011 - 17:41
Juffermans, Jan


Jan Juffermans
De Kleine Aarde (The Small Earth - Centre for a Sustainable World - Holland)

Paper presented at the
2nd International Conference of the Environment Forum,
6-8 November, 1998, De Poort, The Netherlands

[This paper is as presented at the Conference, and has not been subject to editorial review by the IEF]

How sustainable are our choices?

People depend on nature for the supply of food, energy and fibre, the absorption of waste products and other life-support services. If we are to continue to have good living conditions, we must ensure that nature's productivity isn't used more quickly than it can be renewed, and that waste isn't discharged more quickly than nature can absorb it. To find out whether nature provides enough recources to secure good living conditions, the Task Force on Healthy and Sustainable Communities at the University of British Colombia has developed an ecological accounting tool: the ecological footprint.

A much more elaborate description can be found in the recent book Our Ecological Footprint by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees.

Our ecological footprint

The ecological footprint is an accounting tool for ecological resources. Categories of human consumption are translated into areas of productive land required to provide resources and assimilate waste products. The ecological footprint is a measure of how sustainable our life-styles are. The ecological footprint is the average Canadian adds up to 4.8 hectares. This is the royal amount of land required for food, housing transport, consumer goods and services. Energy is a large component of the footprint: some 2.9 hectares are necessary for the long term provision of a biological substitute for fossil fuels.

The second largest component at 1.1. hectare is agriculture for food supply and consumer goods. Forestry takes up 0.6 hectare to supply the fibre for housing and consumer goods. Finally, the built environment takes up 0.2 hectares for housing and transport.

Can everybody on earth live like the average North-American today ?

No. In fact, if everybody on earth lived like the average North America, it would require at least three earths to provide all the material and energy she or he currently uses. Preliminary estimates show that the ecological footprint of today's consumption in food, forestry products and fossil fuels alone might already, exceed global carrying capacity by roughly 30%. About ¾ of the current consumption goes to the 1.1 billion people who live in affluence, while ¼ of the consumption remains for the other 4.6 billion people. This demonstrates the ethical implications of the sustainability dilemma and questions economic expansionism as a remedy for poverty.

Your daily newspaper's footprint is about 0.15 hectares or about 10 per cent of the average footprint for each person on earth.

Source: Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. By Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees 1996. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Islands.B.C.

The Small Earth is a national education and exhibition centre for a sustainable world, situated in the town of Boxtel in the south of The Netherlands (Holland). The centre started in 1972 and promotes a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, based on on organic farming, ecological food and a modest use of limited global resources like fossil energy and raw materials. To us, a sustainable lifestyle gives room for sustainable development in other parts of the world.

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