Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ecological Footprinting Part 1

Human beings have always grouped together for protection and while some developed a nomadic lifestyle, others preferred fixed settlements. These villages, towns and cities were surrounded by a hinterland – the area required for all the crops, livestock, hunting and gathering needed to support the settlement. Today our hinterland is truly global - all around the world there are patches of land providing for our wants and needs. For example, our oranges might come from groves in South Africa, our lamb from fields in New Zealand.

The ecological footprint concept expands on the idea of a hinterland to estimate our environmental impact. Our ecological footprint is the productive land area required in theory to support us in a sustainable manner. It includes agricultural land for our food, forest to recycle our carbon dioxide emissions into oxygen and so on.

While it is not perfect, ecological footprinting is fast becoming the accepted way of estimating the effects of our way of life on the world and is currently championed by the WWF in the One Planet Living campaign.

Here’s the scary bit:

The total amount of productive land per person = 1.8 hectares
The global environmental footprint per person = 2.2 hectares

In other words, we’re behaving as if we had a bigger planet than we actually have, which is why we’re suffering global warming as we exceed the earth's ability to recycle carbon.

However some people have a bigger share than others:

Average US citizen’s footprint = 9.7 hectares
Average European’s footprint = 4.7 hectares
Average African’s footprint = 1.1 hectares

This means if everyone lived like a European, we’d need three planets; if we all lived like US citizens, we’d need five. It is only the poverty of billions that stops total meltdown. Our challenge is to bring those people out of poverty and save the planet at the same time.


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