Your Ecological Footprint

Since the late 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. How does your own ecological footprint shape up?

Author Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 09.01.10

Since the late 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. How does your own ecological footprint shape up?

Each year, normally in mid-August, an unfortunate milestone is marked: Earth Overshoot Day, a day on which we exhaust our ecological budget for the rest of that year. Passing this day means humanity has demanded all the ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food – that nature can provide in one year. Once past this date, we  meet our ecological demand by liquidating resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The most obvious and arguably pressing result is climate change – a result of producing more carbon than can be reabsorbed by the forests and seas. But there are others: shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse and freshwater stress, just to name a few.

If Everyone Lived the Lifestyle of the Average American, We Would Need Four Planets

According to the Global Footprint Network, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets worth of resources. This means that it takes the Earth one year and five months to regenerate what we use in a year. The Living Planet Report 2012 shows that at the current rate that humanity is using natural resources and producing waste, by the early 2030s we will require the resources of more than two planets to meet our needs.

A country’s footprint is the sum of all the cropland, grazing land, forest and fishing grounds required to produce the food, fibre and timber it consumes, to absorb the wastes emitted when it uses energy and to provide space for its infrastructure. There have been differences in the methodology used by various ecological footprint studies. Since 2006, a first set of ecological footprint standards exist that detail both communication and calculation procedures. These standards are useful when comparing a country’s, city’s or region’s footprint. The Living Planet Report 2008 names the top three countries with the highest ecological footprint per head:

  1. Qatar
  2. Kuwait
  3. United Arab Emirates
(source: Global Footprint Network)

The Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its waste. All of the per person Footprint Calculators use different end-use categories such as food, shelter, mobility, goods and services and some of them use land types (forest, cropland, energy, fish, grazing land).

By measuring the footprint of a population, individual, city, business, nation or all of humanity, we can take personal and collective action to support a world where humanity lives within the Earth’s bounds. To reach this goal individuals and institutions worldwide must begin to recognise ecological limits, make them central to our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live.

You can start by taking individual action – the Personal Footprint Calculators will help you to see where you stand and to find a starting point for changing your lifestyle.

Your Personal Footprint

footprintnetwork.org: How much land area does it take to support your lifestyle? Take this quiz to find out your Ecological Footprint, discover your biggest areas of resource consumption, and learn what you can do to tread more lightly on the earth. At the end of this quiz, you’ll find graphs about your biggest areas of resource consumption, and learn what you can do to live more sustainably. Although you choose your country the current version is based on data specifically for the U.S. and Australia, but Global Footprint Network is developing a new version which will enable people around the world to calculate their Footprints with data specific to their region.

myfootprint.org: After 27 easy questions you´ll be able to compare your Ecological Footprint to others´ and you can learn how to reduce your footprint. In this quiz you can choose your country and get some country-specific answers.

The Ecological Footprint does not, and is not intended to measure freshwater flows. Nevertheless this is a vital renewable resource to become aware of. Check your Water footprint.

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Healing Hands: How Big Is Your Green Handprint?

We have all heard about ecological footprints: the demands that each and every one of us makes on the Earth’s ecosystems as we go about our day-to-day lives, not just with cars and air travel, but also by heating our homes, washing our clothes, even eating.

Reduce Your Ecological Footprint

An ecological footprint measures humans' consumption of natural resources against the Earth’s ecological capacity (biocapacity) to regenerate them.

Save Water: Reduce Your Water Footprint

People use lots of water for drinking, cooking and washing but even more for producing things such as food, paper and cloth.
A water footprint is an indicator that looks at both the direct and indirect water use of an individual, business, community, city or country.