Ecological Footprint

This is a method and concept by Wackernagel and Rees (1994) that can represent the true environmental 'cost' for sustaining a given animal, citizen, or community by estimating the land area it needs, calibrated against current, average levels of consumption and waste. Some sources have suggested a global baseline level of 6 acres per person to achieve parity and stability. Seldom is this achieved within an urban context because imports of food are wasteful and the additional expenditure for this waste will increase the acreage required.

Up to a certain level the global population will sustain themselves without harming the ecosystem. Beyond this point, we risk depleting and damaging the ecosystem, in a practical sense perhaps irreparably. Unfortunately, the world is currently living at what is called the ‘overshoot’ zone, in which we are using up resources that will compromise our ability to survive in the future. In 1995 London was estimated to have an ecological footprint of 125 times its own size. In 200 this was re-calculated. The new figures show that it has increased to 293 times its size – roughly twice the size of the UK. Profligate lifestyles increase the footprint because rich people usually travel further, and consume more produce from more places.

The USA presently needs the equivalent of 4.7 times its own land area to survive at its current living style. One other country lives at almost double this rate. Obviously, some balance is created by the poorest countries living at a ‘deficit’ level, in some cases down to minus 18.4, but this is exceptionally rare. When this happens, we would be unable to support the same size of population at the same level of consumption.

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