(Wiebe, N. 2019. William Rees. Wikimedia)

Introducing Ecological Footprint Analysis

Section
2. Reduce Consumption
Page
2.3

Dealing with the natural world is daunting, such is its size and complexity. Getting a fix on humanity and its blizzard of activities and effects, is similarly daunting. It’s no wonder, then, that it is so hard to get any sort of perspective, any sort of proportion on our impact on the globe and its ability to deal with this impact.

To make matters worse, so many have an interest in denying ecological context, be it the despoilers of the environment or the trivialisers of the tabloid media and advertising industry, that they want to reduce everything to a simple story of ‘consumption = happiness’.

Thank goodness that into this ironbound world in 1992 came William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel from the University of British Columbia. They came up with the idea and process of the ‘Ecological Footprint’ to sum both humanity’s impacts on the globe, and to calculate the earth’s capacity to meet these impacts. This extremely clever idea gives us a chance to understand the totality of our actions and effects, and to determine priorities to address them, rather than be trapped in delusional confusion, applying a random shotgun approach to environmental actions whereby recycling a plastic bag is deemed the equivalent of moving the First World to a largely plant-based diet!

William Rees is a terrific speaker: clear, concise, honest. The following podcast is one of my all-time favourites because it so crisply dissects the environmental problems of the world and logically lays out the foundations and process of Ecological Footprint Analysis. It could have been placed almost anywhere in T10 (e.g. Section 5, ‘Population’, or 3 ‘Growth’, or 1.1, ‘Articles’), but I will put it here to focus on consumption and the development of the Footprint, and as such it introduces this vital concept that we will use often in T10. (And, I will repeat it in Section 5, ‘Population’, as well).

Player FM – Internet Radio Done Right 1

The interviewers are Dave Gardner and Nandita Bajaj and it runs for one hour, but you can ignore the first five or six minutes as they are devoted to ‘housekeeping’. I urge you to put an hour aside to listen to William Rees; you won’t regret it.

(New Zealand Ministry for the Environment)

 

1 Gardner, D., Bajaj, N. 2021. 65 – Earth Overshoot Day: Overdrafting the World’s Ecosystems. The Overpopulation Podcast, Population Balance, July 28th.

 

Explore Other Pages Reduce Consumption

2.1 Context and Clarifications

“I consume, therefore I am”   Poor Reneé Descartes couldn’t have known how wrong he was in 1637 when he penned “I think, therefore I am”. I am not being facetious at all when I write the above; I really think that the majority of the worl...

2.2 Consumption Fever

This is Albert, the Magic Pudding, ‘magic’ because: “A peculiar thing about the Puddin’ was that, though they had all had a great many slices off him, there was no sign of the place whence the slices had been cut. ‘That’s where the Magic comes in,...

2.3 Introducing Ecological Footprint Analysis

Dealing with the natural world is daunting, such is its size and complexity. Getting a fix on humanity and its blizzard of activities and effects, is similarly daunting. It’s no wonder, then, that it is so hard to get any sort of perspective, any ...

2.4 Using Ecological Footprint Analysis

Hopefully, webpage 2.3 has introduced the ‘Footprint’ concept sufficiently well to enable readers to be ready to apply it, both personally, and to cities, regions, countries or sectors, of interest. Footprint’s ‘home base’ is the Global Footpri...

2.5 Food

While webpages 2.1-4 have attempted to provide some overview on consumption, it is time now to focus on specific significant areas. Food, accounting for up to a third of our consumptive impact, well and truly qualifies as ‘significant’. On clos...

2.6 Housing/Shelter

The next, ‘big ticket’ item, is housing, or shelter, which – depending on the measurement system – ranks alongside food as the major personal consumptive impact. Shelter consumes enormous resources in its construction, maintenance and operation, b...

2.7 Transport/Mobility

Global Footprint Analysis tells us that, worldwide, this accounts for 15% of our personal impact1, and this is much higher in First World countries. At its simplest, it comes down to: How far we travel By what means we travel ...

2.8 Goods

Where to start? The Developing World can’t get enough of them and the Developed World is drowning in them. Our Footprint Analysis in 2.1 tells us that they comprise 14% of our personal consumption impact1, ranking just behind transporta...

2.9 Other Scales: Institutional, Governmental, Corporate

It has oft been stated that T10 focusses, or at least starts, at the personal scale, for reasons of understandability, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the importance of consumption – and drivers - at larger scales. Domestic consumption is ...

2.10 Consumption Myths

It seems a strange thing to do to finish the section on consumption with a word of caution about the topic. The last thing I want to do is to undermine this vital area of impact and agency, but it must be said that it is an area of considerable sm...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...