from ‘oops’ to ‘aha’: asking about footprints

global footprint network

We're talking footprints on Kauai community radio this week and launching a sustainability course on using the footprint framework.

This is important because we all need to shift our way of thinking, stop reacting to the "ooops" stories, and get proactive. Learning about our footprints is the way to get'r done.

By showing humanity's demand on nature, ecological footprint accounts are helping sustainability practitioners more effectively manage our ecological assets and move toward sustainable living.

Footprint methodology has been applied to virtually every aspect of our lives (eg., Australia's Victoria government), and doing these measurements almost always generates an "aha" or two. The simple reason is: we never asked this question before.

Now, we all need to be asking about footprints all the time in all we do.

Turns out, from this perspective, sustainability is not something too complicated to understand, but rather is really quite simple:

We are all bound to our planet's environment and natural resources through our Ecological Footprint.

Every human activity consumes resources from the planet and produces waste that the planet must then deal with.

Most important: we can measure this stuff...how close is your household to 'one planet' living...how close we are to a sustainable society.

You've seen the plethora of 'calculators' available online for measuring footprints, and prolly tried 'em out, right?

It's fruitful to run your own scenarios, measuring the footprint of your food, supplies, energy, transport in turn, and testing how much footprint you could shave off by taking certain steps like switching vehicles or fuels, recycling, or downsizing your house.

The ecological footprint measures resource consumption of human activities across the whole lifecycle of a product or service and converts this to the amount of land needed to supply the resources consumed and assimilate the waste generated, especially including the land required to eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the impact of the energy required to provide the water we consume.

Humanity's ecological footprint can be illustrated in numbers of planets, where one planet equals the total biocapacity of the Earth in any one year. Since the late 1980's, we have been in 'overshoot', and currently the ecological footprint exceeds the Earth's biocapacity by about 25 per cent. In other words, at the global level, we are currently living beyond the means of nature by one-fourth.

This means that we currently need about 1.2 planets to meet our average consumption levels.

If we measure this in terms of planetary space per person, the average global ecological footprint is 2.2 global hectares per capita, while there are only 1.8 hectares of biologically productive area per person available on the planet.

We know that, just like spending more money than we earn, we can exceed our ecological limits for a while, but this 'deficit spending' leads to the destruction of ecological assets on which our economy depends, such as depleted groundwater, collapsing fisheries, accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and deforestation.

Ecological 'overshoot' means that we are reducing the ability of the earth's land and water to support humans and other species into the future.

More worse, over the last decade, the per capita footprint in high income countries has grown steadily bigger, while the average footprint in the rest of the world has been getting smaller. Yikes!

Surely, this is something we all need to know/do a lot more about.

You can get started in your own learning with this online documentary from Mathis Wackernagel, the 'inventor' of the ecological footprint.

Published by Ken on April 15th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Systems Thinking

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