Using Ecological Footprint Analysis

Section
2. Reduce Consumption
Page
2.4

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 Footprint Network – Home – Global Footprint Network – and it is here where we can retrieve a mine of information and carry out our own calculations.

To the personal first, we go to ‘What is your impact?’ and then follow the prompts as we are quizzed about our food, shelter, transport, and wastes. (To keep things simple, goods and services are inferred partially from algorithms of our use of the first four categories). Once we’ve finished we are given a summary like this:

and this…

 

This is my Footprint, used as an example. Hmmn, disappointing. Am going OK on food and goods and services, but shelter is a concern and mobility could be better. I am currently renting an old house with very limited stock available, so this is hard to improve immediately, but clearly there is a lot of scope for doing much better here. There is also a clear need to reduce my carbon footprint as it comprises the great bulk – 61% – of my impact.

While this is very useful – and personal – information to focus my actions, Footprint calculations like this can be rough estimates only of impact, and there are some important aspects and limitations to be aware of while using them. For instance:

  • it is an individual, per capita, calculator that doesn’t multiply impact by offspring. As such, for example, if you have four children then this is divided from your household/shelter impact rather than multiplied, even though population is the most powerful multiplier of all (up to 24x more than any other factor, according to Nicholas and Wynes1! [see Section 5.10]);
  • CO2 is a difficult lingua franca of environmental impact, despite its casual use and overuse by the media. We all know how important climate change is, but it is still only a part of the impact ‘equation’ (see, for instance, habitat loss, etc…in Section ‘State of the Environment’), and part only of the basket of solutions, yet its uncritical application across the board runs the very real risk of unhelpful and misguided, reductionism. (For example, I am amused and angered in Australia by the advertising of hydro-electric power generation as ‘green’ because it has a low carbon footprint. This is nonsense; it may have a low carbon footprint, but its damage of riverine ecosystems, wilderness, etc, is profound. Has everyone forgotten the drowning of Lake Pedder [see 1.8.3 ‘Photographs’] or the Three Gorges on the Yangtze in China?). The Footprint calculator balances this, in part, with its Global Hectare measure, but I wonder, still, if the carbon footprint may be overplayed somewhat;
  • the Footprint doesn’t really account for positive environmental actions. Yes, for instance, throwing out less waste is a less negative action which translates to a lower impact score, but independent, positive actions, like volunteering for a conservation NGO, are not counted.

Despite these caveats, we are far better off having the calculator than not.

Next, what is the bigger picture? The site has a plethora of information, static and interactive, on, for example, world, country, region, city:

  • Biocapacity
  • Ecological Footprint
  • Ecological deficit/reserve
  • Trends in reserves and deficits
  • Analysis by land types, sectors, themes (e.g. tourism, croplands, biodiversity)
  • Sustainable development (e.g. world Footprint vs UN Human Development Index)
  • Socio-economic relationships (e.g. Footprint vs population vs biocapacity last 50 years)
  • Case studies
  • Educational resources
  • Publications, newsletters, Blog, etc…

Finally, the site offers solutions. On the homepage, go to ‘Explore Many Ways We Can #MOVETHEDATE’, which refers to the date each year when the earth’s biocapacity is exceeded (was June 28th in 2021) and seeks to move the date later into the year, closer to earth’s capacity.

This connects you to: https://movethedate.overshootday.org/ and an ingenious map of the world which you can click on in your locality, and it brings up the name, nature, distance from you and contacts for a whole range of positive environmental projects you can assist or join. Very clever. Here it is for North America.

 

1 Nicholas, K., Wynes, S. 2017. The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions. Environmental Research Letters, July 12th, Vol. 12, IOP Publ., Bristol, UK.

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2.3 Introducing Ecological Footprint Analysis

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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

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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...

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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
1/11

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