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Ecological Footprints

In this video, Dr. Nathan B. English talks about our ecological footprint and how we can calculate it.
Now that we've discussed sort of the global environmental bank account in biocapacity, now it’s time to talk about withdrawals. And so we’re going to talk about ecological footprints, which is a way of measuring the human withdrawal from the environment. Now, it’s not withdrawal in the typical sense, where you go to the ATM and pull out your money. Well, our ecological footprint also includes our waste as well. So it’s not only all the biologically productive land and water required to produce all of the resources we consume, but it’s also the land and water and atmosphere required to absorb all of the waste generated by our activities.
And it’s always measured against our prevailing technology and resource management practices. So it’s a withdrawal in the sense of that we’re using the planet for both producing resources for us to use but also expecting it to absorb our waste as well. Now, the overall ecological footprint
we usually just call it the ecological footprint. And sometimes people refer to the carbon footprint. And that’s a kind of ecological footprint, but it’s just specifically, we’re referring to carbon and carbon use. There’s other footprints as well, but ecological footprint is that sort of our whole use. And it’s oftentimes called the ecological footprint of consumption as well. Or we could talk about just the ecological footprint of production, or the ecological footprint of imports, or the ecological footprint of export. So we can dice it up in as many different ways as we want. But typically when we talk about EF, we’re talking about the ecological footprint of our consumption, and that includes our imports, but we don’t include our exports.
And that’s because we expect the nation that receives that material or product to count that import as in their ecological footprint. So we don’t want to do any double accounting. So ecological footprint of consumption includes our imports, what we produce in our own nation, but not our exports. Just a quick heads up on that one. Ecological footprint, so that we can use it in conjunction with biocapacity, is measured in global hectares. And again, a global hectares is a biologically productive hectare. And what’s a hectare? Well, it’s about 10,000 square meters or a 100 meter by 100 meters square of land with world average biological productivity for that given year.
Okay, so it’s sort of an idealized average 100 meter by 100 meter square. Now, most football pitches and soccer fields, and let’s not get into a debate about soccer and football, are roughly a hundred meters or a hundred yards long. So just imagine a hundred by a hundred meter. Just imagine a square football or soccer field, to give yourself an idea of how much land that is. Now, when we look at relative ecological footprints, this is a really interesting. So these are per capita relative ecological footprints.
And what you can see here, and let’s just think about this, the ecological footprint per capita is a nation’s as it’s shown here, is a nation’s total ecological footprint divided by the total population of the nation. So we take the whole nation’s footprint, we divide it by the number of people in that nation. To live within the means of our planet’s resources, the world’s ecological footprint would have to equal the available biocapacity per personal our planet, which is about 1.7 global hectares. And you can see over here, that this second to the lightest gray, or this lightest gray, is less than 1.7.
So all of these countries that are the lightest gray, Greenland, are the lightest gray are the ones that are sort of living within the global biocapacity, alright, per capita. A nation’s ecological footprint greater than 6.7. So let’s say the US, 6.8. If a nation’s ecological footprint per person is 6.8 global hectares, its population are using four times the resources and wastes that our planet can generate and absorb, okay? So they’re using it at a rate that’s 4.8 times what can actually be sustained.
So it’s interesting to know here, and now think about some of our population graphics, especially in the demographic transition video, where we noticed that some of the greatest growth rates were in Africa and some of the least growth rates were in Russia and Eastern Europe, Germany, and Japan. But now notice the distribution of the ecological footprint. And so even though these areas in Africa are growing rapidly with respect to human population, their ecological footprint is still quite low. And in fact, in Australia, where I live, one average Australian is the ecological equivalent of 34 Kenyans, 66 Libyans, or 80 Afghanis.
And this just gets to the idea that affluence and the consumption of goods really has an impact on the world. And it really is, in some ways an individual choice, but it’s also moderated by government policies and the like as well. So this is just a really, really good way to look at the relative ecological footprint. Now, it’s pretty clear that we’re overdrawing the account. And if my mom saw this, she’d be really mad at me. So basically right now, as a whole, our world population is currently consuming 130% of what the earth can provide. So we’re overdrawing our biocapacity by about 30%. Now, luckily, quote unquote, here, this consumption isn’t in waste generation, isn’t evenly distributed.
And that allows us to keep going. And if it was evenly distributed, we’d need four and a half Earths Now, what does happen, though, is we tend to export our ecological footprint in some ways. And so, even though we’re consuming goods in the United States, the ecological impacts of that maybe being felt in China or Western Europe, or wherever those goods were manufactured. So it’s important to think that even though it’s not evenly distributed, and even within a nation, those ecological footprints aren’t necessarily evenly distributed because we know that there is a direct relationship between wealth and resource use. So if you don’t have an equal share of wealth, you’re not actually using resources equally as well.
And so I leave you with this graphic here, which is sort of the biocapacity debtors, the ones who are overdrawing their account, essentially based on their total global hectares, and those that are helping us maintain our world through just the sheer amount of ecological productivity that’s available in their country. And so the global debtors are China, India, the United States. Australia isn’t a global debtor simply because it has a low population and a huge land mass, which makes it biocapacity quite large and its population is small. So it’s actually a creditor with respect to biocapacity. So I’ll leave you with this graphic and we’ll meet you at the next step.

Building on this idea of a global environmental bank account, our ecological footprint gives us an idea of how much we as individuals are withdrawing from that account.

Watch Dr. Nathan B. English explain how an ecological footprint is calculated and used to determine which nations are ecological debtors and which are ecological creditors.

Now it’s your turn

In the comments, share which nation you live in. Is that nation an ecological debtor or creditor? How do you think your personal ecological footprint stacks up to others in your nation and in the world? What factors. contribute to this?

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