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What is an Ecological Footprint?

It is an attempt to give a conservative measure of the degree of overshoot occurring in a particular society or bioregion, under the conditions of present technology and social organization. The amount of land that would be required to support the civilization in a sustainable manner is calculated and compared to the amount of land that is available. When the required amount is greater than the total area where the people live, the carrying capacity has been exceeded. When this occurs on a global scale, it means that either miracles such as changing water into gasoline will have to happen, or that people will have to learn to use much less or become fewer in numbers. It is just a matter of past actions catching up to the present. Most adults with their absolute faith in technological human cleverness are making the not-in-my-lifetime bet, which makes it all the more probable that it will be a rougher yes-in-your-lifetime-buddy —'cause you got in at the end of the line leading to the hog trough.

Furthermore, Christian folks tend to believe that they don't have to worry too much about the future seeing as how everything's doomed to end with all hell breaking loose anyway and they're going to float off to harp land just because they thumped on their bible. Course they have been saying that for almost two thousand years now, and tomorrow just keeps on coming around. Are they going to be surprised when they learn that nope, no harp land, but, going right back to the end of the line. ¿What else would be fair? Remember, we're in this universe for the learning, and that includes getting ourselves learned if that's what it takes. And it's all too obvious that we're coming up dumb in lots of aspects.

There are two ways to calculate an ecological footprint. One is to base it on the average productivity of the Earth because trade is expanding and extra carrying capacity can be imported from another nation that has some to spare. Much carrying capacity comes from the ancient past through the contribution of the sunlight then in terms of dinosaur blood, coal, and gas. It has been called "Ghost" acreage. Pollution of all types as well as leaving the cleaning up of nuclear reactors to others are methods of taking carrying capacity from the future.


United States of America & Afghanistan
SUMMARY
 
DEMAND
 
SUPPLY
Average footprint in United States of America (per capita) in Afghanistan (per capita)       Biocapacity within United States of America (per capita) within Afghanistan (per capita)      
 
total
equivalence equivalent  
yield
national yield adjusted
   
factor
total  
factor 
area
equiv. area
Footprint areas for:
[ha/cap]
[ - ] [ha/cap]   [ - ] [ha/cap] [ha/cap]
absorbing CO2 from fossil fuel 4.2
0.0
1.8
1.8
7.4
0.0
land set aside for CO2 absorption 0.8
0.1
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
roads, houses, and other infrastructure 0.3
0.0
3.2
3.2
1.0
0.0
built-up area 2.0
0.5
0.15
0.01
0.97
0.02
growing crops 0.5
0.1
3.2
3.2
1.4
0.2
crop land (arable land minus arable land used for pasture) 2.0
0.5
0.36
0.12
2.28
0.18
grazing animals 2.8
0.4
0.4
0.4
1.1
0.2
grazing land (pasture and wooded area plus arable land used for pasture) 2.0
0.3
1.52
1.77
1.16
0.17
producing wood 0.7
0.1
1.8
1.8
1.3
0.2
managed forests 0.8
0.1
0.71
0.06
0.97
0.01
harvesting fish and other sea food 0.9
0.0
0.1
0.1
0.1
0.0
fishing grounds (in oceans) 1.0
1.0
1.18
0.00
0.07
0.00
biodiversity responsibility (%age of overall footprint)     1.7
0.1
frontier ecosystem (here only frontier forest) 0.8
0.1
0.08
0.00
0.11
0.00
               
TOTAL used (without biodiversity)     12.3
  0.6
TOTAL existing biocapacity   4.01
1.97
5.6
0.4
TOTAL used (incl. biodiversity)     13.9
  0.7
       

There are three ways which were considered by the authors as a possible method of determining the fossil fuel equivalent in terms of required land.

One is the land area that would have to be converted to the absorption of carbon dioxide, through planting trees where there previously were none, for example. This is in recognition that the tendency to ignore changes which lead to global climate modification is too unwise. There are so many people who live along the coasts and so much agriculture that would be affected by a rapid sea rise, as well as the extinction of species who could not quickly enough adapt to rapid change. The combustion of fossil fuels is the greatest man made contribution toward the changing of the climate.

Another turns about the idea that the usage of a nonrenewable resource should not be counted simply as income as all societies now do. A portion of that gained from the exhaustion of such as dinosaur blood should be reinvested in something which will serve to replace the usage of it when it is no more. A wind energy powered system of train transportation might be such a replacement. This concept was developed by a member of the World Bank, Salah El Serafy, but the bank does not use it because its cuts back on what countries like to believe is their true indicator of growing prosperity, the number of dollars or whatever that slosh back and forth between people, even when that counting should be a subtraction from the well-being of society rather than an addition! It is difficult to think in any other way when the reality of needing bills and coins in order to do whatever seems so impossible to surpass.

The last would be to consider how much land would be required to grow a crop to be converted into alcohol or biodiesel. We already know that this is pretty much pie-in-the-sky thinking, from the bits, ands, & buts section.

The first method was the one chosen by the authors because it results in the smallest land area requirement, thus making the calculated numbers unquestionably conservative, and because it avoids the problem of asking people to reflect upon the fact that they don't have the foggiest idea of what they're going to do without dinosaur blood.

OTHER INDICATORS (for 1996)
(average land with world average productivity in [ha/capita])
United States of America   Afghanistan
7.1 net import of biocapacity plus
depletion of domestic natural
capital, if positive.
0.2
(8.4) national ecological deficit with
biodiversity responsibility.
(0.3)
(6.7) national ecological deficit without
biodiversity responsibility.
(Deficit if number is negative as
indicated by red brackets.
Remainder if positive as
indicated by black number)
(0.2)
40% capacity as percentage of
footprint
58%
(11.7) global deficit if negative
(indicated by red brackets). If
positive, it is a remainder.
1.5
672% per capita footprint (incl.
biodiversity resp.) as percentage
of the world average per capita
capacity.
32%
The 7.1 refers to the degree of dependence we have on being able to import carrying capacity, largely from the sunshine of the past, either from within our country or from another. It is alone greater than the amount of land we live on. The 672% means we are using more than six times our share of the world's carrying capacity, 21 times the 32% share of Afghanistan.

¿So what?

We rich have a right to have more than the rest of the world because (A) we've got it (B) we worked hard for it (C) we develop technologies that can only be discovered when expensive research can be paid for.

The answer A would fall apart morally when you put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not have enough to eat, simply because of where they were born and the situation that surrounds them, if we were declining toward the optimum number of people for the carrying capacity of each bioregion. As long as we continue to exponentially and mindlessly reproduce, then there must be the impoverished amidst the wealthy, the wasteful stupid struggle of trying to get a fatter share of the world's real wealth through war or the power of money to steal, the push-me pull-you of master and servant. If there are too many people there will not be enough to share well, and the money system will need to exist; as long as the money system exists there can be no sharing, no way to reach a harmony with the ecology, because it fosters the wrong consciousness.

The answer B requires one to have faith in the fairness of money, as in when you think about all the work done by the butchers of meat since the founding of this country, and ask whether that work by all those people which allow others to eat meat without having to kill it and clean it, is less than the actual amount of work done by Billy Boy Gates #3. In terms of sweaty distasteful work the answer is obviously no, the butchers worked like dogs. Billy successfully schemes.

Anybody who knows anything about money knows that its easier to get rich from working your money or others hard, rather than yourself. It is through the mechanism of money and monopoly that Billy, as well as Carlos Slim&Trim with his TelMex monopoly, have become so wealthy, and it is in part the same mechanism which allows a country to be wealthier than another, to gather wealth gotten from other countries into one country. [I always tell people that Billy would have been better off charging per reboot, 'cause you sure have to with Windoze, an intermittently operating system, but that is because somebody had to go down the money path, therby encouraging the evolution of FREE software. Now, Slim&Trim, he just lets the regulatory apparatus of Mexico poke it in his pocket, 'cause the Mexicans ain't gonna let the biggest be but a Mexican, if Bank Accounts is the name of the game. "Con dinero baila el perro"] And, then there are the real thieves who hide out behind the Banks whose families have practiced the money game since gold became a dream in a woman's eye, and they make Billy look like a cool-aid vendor.

The different things that can be bought with different moneys allow one country to advantageously trade goods which require less emergy for goods that require more. Thus, Billy's software requires some head work to make and the right of monopoly, which is in turn exchanged through the mechanism of trade for petroleum and minerals from other countries. The countries supplying natural resources lose out big time in the trade when you consider the ecological value, even when you take into consideration the level of education that the code writers require. It has been the ability to buy these natural resources so inexpensively in terms of the minutes we must work to pay for a gallon of gasoline, for so many years, that has made our country so rich —now having used about 28% of all the oil exhausted since it was discovered. Imagine a man digging a ditch by hand in a society where gasoline is too expensive for the right machinery and a man digging a ditch with a backhoe —one sweats more and the other accomplishes so much more. This has come to be because of history as much as from hard work, we having first invented the automobile and having had so much dinosaur blood of our own; and it explains why Uncle Sammy struggles so hard to keep the blood cheap —everything having been built around its being so easy to come by.

The answer C makes sense in terms of global evolution. The concentration of wealth in certain countries has fostered innovation in a way that a more equal spreading of wealth would not. This is a truth that belongs to an era of evolution, but that does not mean it is a trend that should be expected to continue without end. The purpose of human innovation must ultimately be for the planet in its entirety, and for all of its peoples.

While it is not written in stone that humankind has to organize itself around the usage of money, we are so used to it that it boggles the mind to imagine something different. Economic history has been one of learning to use money, and getting everybody at last into the same boat. The story that we are asked to believe is that the rising tide of growth will lift all people out of poverty bit by bit, if we can just create enough jobs and enough growth. However, the last twenty years have seen the gap between those who have little and those who have much, widening, which makes it very difficult for those with so very little to accept this "trickle down" economic theory. It will always be that way as long as there are too many people, and it will always be that way as long as money gives the power to injustly appropriate real wealth.

However, the problem turns into a entirely different animal when it is not just a question of some getting a much greater share than others, but going beyond the capacity of the Earth to sustain what has been built, when ecological systems are permanently damaged or destroyed, when everything is threatened with collapse. The rich-man poor-man game could perhaps continue without end if it were not for this. Any half-bright teenager can look around and see that if tomorrow there was suddenly no more dinosaur blood, we would be in very serious trouble. Yet, we see that society still acts as if it will never run out, and it does not change those habits which destroy so much of the good earth.

This means that all of our justifications start to fall apart when continuing growth is no longer intelligent, but instead stupid. Something completely different is now needed besides a new model of car, or a new gizmo with 47 buttons and a manual in 6 languages. What was once a good way of doing things can become with the changing times a bad way, something that must be surpassed. When there is always more dinosaur blood to be turned into wealth, when growth is what you have, it is easier to foster discovery of new inventions by concentrating that wealth in a few places. But when the easy times for taking the blood out of the ground turn into the hard times, and when the impact of humanity upon the Earth is so great that the solution is one required over the whole earth, it is time to start looking at the whole Earth and all of its peoples. It's time to stop worrying primarily about developing technologies for profit; time to start using the tools to build a way of living that can be lived everywhere, and that doesn't depend upon the poverty of some for the wealth of others.

And, it's way past time to learn how to stop having so many babies. We know well how to multiply. Most of us know our existence within the comfort of a family, with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Logic requires that an intelligent species willfully be able to reduce its population as well and as quickly as it can increase it, certainly before overshoot causes a dieoff. But we can only do that if we find a way to consider our family more than those who are blood related. This in turn means challenging the passing of wealth on to one's offspring, the making of one's own children and their well-being the reason for having lived. We need to find a way to find satisfaction in leaving life better for humankind in general, even if unrelated to us, even if we live life without having children, even if we have to abandon the tradition of marriage which binds two ignorant youngsters unto the biological consequences of a single, repetetive sexual partner. We have to realize, that in some way we cannot fully understand, the far future upon the Earth will be ours to live.


World
SUMMARY
 
DEMAND
 
SUPPLY 
Average Footprint in the World (per capita)
      Existing Global Biocapacity (per capita)      
  total equivalence equivalent   yield world yield adjusted
    factor total   factor area equiv. area
Footprint areas for: [ha/cap] [ - ] [ha/cap]   [ - ] [ha/cap] [ha/cap]
absorbing CO2 from fossil fuel 0.8 1.8 1.41 land set aside for CO2 absorption   0.00 0.00
roads, houses, and other infrastructure 0.0 3.2 0.12 built-up area 1.0 0.04 0.12
growing crops 0.22 3.2 0.69 crop land (arable land minus arable land used for pasture) 1.0 0.22 0.69
grazing animals 0.79 0.4 0.31 grazing land (pasture and wooded area plus arable land used for pasture) 1.0 0.79 0.31
producing wood 0.2 1.8 0.28 managed forests 1.0 0.34 0.61
harvesting fish and other sea food 0.7 0.1 0.04 fishing grounds (in oceans) 1.0 0.55 0.03
biodiversity responsibility (%age of overall footprint)     0.39 frontier ecosystem (here only frontier forest) 1.0 0.24 0.42
               
TOTAL used (without biodiversity
    2.85
TOTAL existing biocapacity
  2.18 2.18
TOTAL used 2.7   3.24        
OTHER INDICATORS (for 1996
(average land with world average productivity in [ha/capita])
1.4
The world's depletion of natural capital, if positive.
(1.1)
The world's ecological deficit with biodiversity responsibility.
(0.7) The world's ecological deficit without biodiversity responsibility.
  (Deficit if number is negative as indicated by red brackets. Remainder if positive as indicated by black number)
  The world's capacity is 67 percent of its footprint (incl. biodiversity resp.).
(1.1) The world's global deficit if negative (indicated by red brackets). If positive, it is a remainder.
  The world's per capita footprint (incl. biodiversity resp.) is 156 percent of the world average per capita capacity.
2.18 The world's ecological capacity in 1996 per capita (see result box in sheet 'world')
The 156 percent refers to the fact that we have built our house of cards already half again greater than the ability of the world to sustain us. These are conservative figures that use the smallest value whenever there is choice, and assume that agriculture and forestry are being performed in a sustainable manner, even when this is known to be the very exceptional case. Furthermore, the difficulty of replacing liquid fuels for transportation is sidestepped.

The second way to calculate the ecological footprint is to doubt whether trade will be so easy to do when the dinosaur blood goes short, and thus calculate the carrying capacity more according to the local, or bioregional, productivity: as if one had to live more off of what the surrounding land had to offer. This is where golf curses in the desert watered with drinking water take a real nose dive, and get up there in stupidity with trying to put a golf curse on the moon.

--Morningthunder

1 Hectare: Next

Ecological footprint calculator See how many planets your lifestyle requires.

The Ecological Footprint (.pdf)

World footprint spreadsheet (.zip format — 6.53 MB) examining the carrying capacity of all the earth's countries, originally from http://www.rprogress.org/ef/LPR2000/ef1996.zip —the site of one of the individuals who pioneered this particular way of looking at carrying capacity.

United States of America footprint spreadsheet (.xls format — 167k) from a section of the above.

Household ecological footprint spreadsheet (.xls format —139k) to more accurately calculate your footprint and see the interrelations.