Carbon Footprint

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Footprint Basics - Introduction

You’ve probably heard of the Ecological Footprint - the metric that allows us to calculate human pressure on the planet and come up with facts, such as: If everyone lived the lifestyle of the average American we would need five planets. This section of our Web site explains how the Ecological Footprint works in basic terms. It examines the benefits of ecological accounting, introduces some of the most important Footprint findings, and addresses provocative questions: Do we fit on the planet? How can the Footprint foster sustainable human development? How do carbon emissions contribute to humanity’s Ecological Footprint?

Footprint Basics - Overview

Humanity needs what nature provides, but how do we know how much we’re using and how much we have to use? The Ecological Footprint has emerged as the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. It measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology. [pic]


Our current global situation: Since the mid 1980s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. It now takes the Earth one year and four months to regenerate what we use in a year. We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources. Overshoot is a vastly underestimated threat to human well-being and the health of the planet, and one that is not adequately addressed. By measuring the Footprint of a population—an individual, city, business, nation, or all of humanity—we can assess our pressure on the planet, which helps us manage our ecological assets more wisely and take personal and collective action in support of a world where humanity lives within the Earth’s bounds. Conceived in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia, the Ecological Footprint is now in wide use by scientists, businesses, governments, agencies, individuals, and institutions working to monitor ecological resource use and advance sustainable development.

World Footprint

Do we fit on the planet?

Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.3 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and four months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the mid 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one. Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend. [pic]

The result is collapsing fisheries, diminishing forest cover, depletion of fresh water systems, and the build up of pollution and waste, which creates problems like global climate change. These are just a few of the most noticeable effects of overshoot. Overshoot also contributes to resource conflicts and wars, mass migrations, famine, disease and other human tragedies—and tends to have a disproportionate impact on the poor, who cannot buy their way out of the problem by getting resources from somewhere else.

Ending Overshoot

The Earth provides all that we need to live and thrive. So what will it take for humanity to live within the means of one planet? Individuals and institutions worldwide must begin to recognize ecological limits. We must begin to make ecological limits central to our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live, within the Earth’s bounds. This means investing in technology and infrastructure that will allow us to operate in a resource constrained world. It means taking individual action, and creating the public demand for businesses and policy makers...
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