The Ecological Footprint (EF) shows how sustainable one’s consumption is. The measure indicates how much a person, country or company affects the Earth. It does so by measuring the land and water required to produce the resources needed for a particular lifestyle or production. It also includes managing waste.
The EF shows humans’ pressure on the Earth’s natural resources. It is an important starting point for sustainable development.
Humanity’s footprint on Earth
The EF shows that global consumption has overexploited the Earth’s resources since 1970, meaning humans have abused the resources for over 50 years. This exploitation has led to an ecological crisis and climate change, which includes deforestation, water scarcity and biodiversity loss. More so, the ecological footprint connects with “Earth Overshoot Day”. It is the day when humanity starts living over the planet’s capacity (read more below). For example, in 2020, this happened on August 22. While in 2022, it happened earlier, on July 28.
Differences across the world
The footprint is very different for each country in the world, meaning there are huge differences in consumption depending on where we live. In particular, rich nations and wealthier lifestyles have the most significant impact. In other words, they put the most pressure on the Earth’s resources. Nations such as the US, Qatar and Luxemburg are relevant examples. More so, Scandinavian countries such as Sweden. Further differences between all nations depend on how productive their land is.
Calculate the ecological footprint
The ecological footprint gets calculated by comparing different parts. First, one looks at the number of resources consumed. Then, these get compared to the Earth’s “regenerative capacity”, which stands for the Earth’s ability to recover or rebuild itself. For example, the consumption of forests for wood, since deforestation pushes many forests to collapse rather than allowing them to rebuild themselves. In other words, the forests cannot grow at the same speed as they are getting cut down. So, the ecological footprint increases as the forests are not allowed to recover.
Furthermore, the footprint usually gets calculated with a concern for other species. In the case of the footprint of all humanity, some land is set aside for other life. In detail, the about 30 million species that exist on the planet. After protecting areas for their existence, the land for human consumption gets calculated. More so, in the EF of Globalis, about 12 % more land is protected to preserve biodiversity.
Earth Overshoot Day
Earth Overshoot Day is when humanity’s consumption exceeds the Earth’s capacity. As mentioned, in 2022, this day happened on July 28. The ecological footprint shows that the Earth’s resources are exhausted faster each year. The earth overshoot day gets calculated in the following way:
Earth’s Biocapacity / Human Ecological Footprint x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day
The Earth’s biocapacity is the ecological resource that it generates each year. This amount gets divided by the entire ecological footprint of humanity multiplied by all the days in a year. The result is Earth Overshoot Day.
The overshoot day is so early in the year for many different reasons, for example, the abuse of forests and the emissions of greenhouse gases. Another global problem is unsustainable agricultural practices, which destroy the land and the soil. The fish industry also contributes to a significant impact. As we fish a great deal more than the oceans can handle. In other words, we don’t allow time for the fish populations to recover, leading to many species’ endangerment. Today, many fish are red-listed and at risk of extinction. The Earth Overshoot Day webpage shows a graph of all the data starting from the 1970s. It shows a straight line upward of an increased need for resources. This increase means that humans keep requiring more and more from the Earth. In other words, total human consumption is entirely unsustainable.
Reducing an ecological footprint
People can reduce their ecological footprint by, for example, using less energy. The EF can also get lower by choosing to travel by public transport. As opposed to using a car or flying. It is also very connected to the global food system. Meaning that the food we eat has different impacts on the Earth.
When considering food, eating a lot of meat causes a high footprint. The world’s meat- and dairy production puts tremendous pressure on the planet. One can choose to eat more sustainable and local meat. Or, at best, avoid eating it. As a rule, one can also buy local products by season. In addition, it is crucial to choose organic products (if you can afford to do so), as organic agriculture puts less pressure on the land.
Reducing the global ecological footprint
You can read more about the “move the date” initiative on the Earth Overshoot Day website. It is a global movement that follows people’s climate work worldwide. For example, you can read about large and small actions that work against human overconsumption.
Sources: Overshoot day, Globalis