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What is an ecological footprint

Whether we live in a city or in the countryside, our lives inevitably depend on the consumption of natural resources, which Planet Earth provides us through its ecosystems. At the same time, every one of us leaves smaller or bigger footprints on the environment – on the planet´s health! It’s important how much you snap off only for yourself!

You cannot manage what you cannot measure. (Anon)

Ecological footprint is a method measuring the impact of human activities on planet Earth.

This influence is expressed through the Earth's surface area needed for our daily activities and consumerist lifestyle. At the same time it figures out whether our needs are fair towards other inhabitants on Earth and in accordance with its biological capacity.

Ecological Footprint can be calculated by an individual, school, organization, city, or country. It represents the total amount of land necessary to provide everything we consume (energy, water, food, clothing, materials) but also for the disposal of created waste. The larger the footprint, the greater the impact on nature. Thanks to international trade our footprint often affects territories strewn all over the world.

The calculation is based on three simple principles:

  1. We are able to estimate the quantity of natural resources we consume and the amount of waste we produce;
  2. Most of these resources and waste can be converted into the amount of corresponding biologically productive area of the Earth (arable land, pastures, forests, water surface and built-up areas);
  3. One hectare of biologically productive area of the Earth refers to a global hectare (gha); one hectare is about the size of a football field.

It is very simple Mathematics

  • We have only one planet! Only one ecological account that represents an area of 51 billion hectares. However, a significant proportion of the Earth's surface is not available to humans. This area is covered with the World Ocean, deserts, rocks or ice.

Surface area of the Earth ... 51 bn ha
Unavailable area (surface) ... 39.1 bn ha
Productive area (surface) ... 11.9 gha
   Population of the Earth ... 6.7 bn

Fair proportion of the Earth’s surface per person [11.9/6.7] = 1.8 gha
Average eco-footprint per person on Earth ... 2.7 gha
   Difference 1.8 – 2.7 = -0.9 gha

  • There are only 11.9 billion disposable global hectares of biologically productive area. This area provides all natural resources and services we need.
  • It can be classified into 6 categories according to people’s usage:
    • cropland is used for growing crops, which are needed for making food, textile manufacturing, production of rubber, vegetable oils, but also fodder for cattle;
    • grazing land provides space for stock-raising, which is used to produce meat, as well as dairy, leather and wool products;
    • forest for timber and fuelwood produce lumber, which we use for the production of building materials, paper, wood products and fuels;
    • fishing ground are used for breeding and rearing of fish in coastal areas, as well as in lakes and ponds;
    • built-up land consists of roads, parking lots, houses, stores, industrial buildings and all areas covered with concrete;
    • forest for carbon dioxide uptake eliminate gaseous waste, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2),that we release into the atmosphere by fossil fuel combustion for the transportation of passengers, food and goods and for the production of electric power and heating.
  • The current world population is approximately 6.7 billion. The fair share of the biologically productive space for each human being is 1,8 global hectares. However, the current average ecological footprint of person reaches 2,7 global hectares.
  • That means that the Earth's biocapacity is exceeded by approximately 50% and the current consumption level of humankind requires an area equal not to one but 1.5 planets.

We deplete natural resources and services faster than they can recover. We are reaching the end of resources and interfere with the regenerative capacities of the Earth. This can go on temporarily, but not forever!

WATCH OUT! Natural resources are not distributed evenly.

Some countries consume more natural resources than is available for them. They outpace their own capacities and deplete other nations’ resources. If every person in the world lived like an average US citizen, mankind would need nearly 4.5 planets. On the contrary, if we lived like an average Zambian citizen, only half of the planet would suffice.

The ecological footprint of a Slovak

According to the latest calculations (in 2007) the current value is 4 global hectares. If everyone on Earth lived like us (Slovaks), we would need not one, but 2.3 planets to continue this way of life. (For comparison, in 2005 the ecofootprint of one Slovak was 3.3gha and 1.6 planets, in 2006 it was 4.9gha and 2.7 planets).It is important to realize that better does not mean well! Although our ecological footprint is not as big as of the Irish (3.5 planets), the Danish (4.6 planets), or the English (2.7 planets), it increases every year. We spend more of our ecological account than was given to us. We can be repaying this debt every day: by making smart decisions and acting as responsible consumers.

The good news

is that there are ways and means to enjoy life on our small planet- the Earth and at the same time to prevent the undermining of its health and thus our own existence. It is not too late yet. Most of the solutions are available today.

Source: The Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010