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Ecological Footprint and Its Impact on Human Life Report

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Updated: Dec 30th, 2021

Introduction

Every city or urban area in this world is dependent on the sage of a distant ecosystem for its resources or ecological services. Without these services and resources life as we know it in modern cities would be not possible.

“The well-being of city and region residents is affected by both the health and availability of these ecosystems, especially in today’s ecologically strained world.” (Jansson, p. 4)

These ecosystems serve as a sort of ‘resource metabolism’. During the last two decades the issue of sustainability and ecosystems has been increasingly a major issue of concern to cities and regions around the globe. Here is where the ecological footprint helps us. The ecological footprint is “the quantitative assessment of the biologically productive area (the amount of nature) required to produce the resources (food, energy, and materials) and to absorb the wastes of an individual, city and region.” (Wackernagel et al, p. 2)

Thus, the ecological footprint allows each individual to have a clear picture of what he / she is using from the resources of the ecosystems and if it is using more than what the ecosystem can re-generate or less. This is precisely what the ecological footprint calculator does.

The scope of this exercise is to demonstrate how sustainable is our lifestyle in comparison to the resources we use from the ecosystems. Sustainability is a concept which aims to evaluate whether the resources of the ecosystems are being consumed more than the ability of the ecosystem to regenerate. A higher level of resource consuming in contrast with the level of regeneration shows that we are moving toward the destruction of the ecosystem.

In order for the consuming of resources to be sustainable it must be within the limits of regeneration of the ecosystem. The ecological footprint calculator is a tool which does precisely the measurement of the level of consuming of the services from the ecosystem. This report will begin by assessing the method how the footprint is calculated. After that there will be the calculation of the actual footprint. The next session will be about the improved footprint, what can be done to make it better, what should be changed in the lifestyle in order to improve the quality of the footprint. Finally there will be a section about the ethics of the differences found in the ecological footprint around the globe.

Method

The ecological footprint is based on the measurement of “how much of the biological capacity of the planet is required by a given human activity or population” (Jansson et al, 1994).

Thus it is expressed in the calculation of how much units are we using, expressed in global hectares, in comparison to the bio capacity of the planet. One global hectare has been agreed to have a certain productive capacity and re-generating capacity (Rees, 1992). The method used to calculate these global hectares units of production is by analyzing every activity during the life of an individual and evaluate how much of these production capacities is he or she using. In this respect it is important to assess the total waste produced by this person for the materials he or she is consuming during daily activities. The combination of these two factors is important in order to assess if that person is consuming over the production and reproductive capacity of the earth or not.

To be more specific, “the amount of material consumed by that person (tons per year) is divided by the yield of the specific land or sea area (annual tons per hectare) from which it was harvested, or where its waste material was absorbed. The numbers of hectares that result from this calculation are then converted to global hectares using yield and equivalence factors. The sum of the global hectares needed to support the resource consumption and waste generation of the person is that person’s Ecological Footprint” (Rees, 1992).

Actual ecological footprint

Actual ecological footprint Actual ecological footprint

As we can see from my results the assessment is based on the categories of food, transportation, housing, goods, services and waste. For each of these categories the subcategories determine my daily activity for example type of foods used and waste generated, household maintenance issues, mode of transportation, etc. From these there are a few daily activities that should be carefully considered. For example the usage of fossil fuels for transportation and household electricity and heat is quite high and over the norms. Also, the usage of non-recycled paper is quite high and should be changed. We will discuss later about the changes that needs to be applied.

Thus, it is imperative to first to assess the global standards regarding the issue.

Footprint results are expressed in global acres (or global hectares in metric measurement). Any one of these hectares is correspondent to one hectare of “biologically productive space with world-average productivity” (Rees, p. 4). The footprint is calculated by assessing “the amount of biologically productive land and sea area an individual, a region, all of humanity or a human activity requires to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the waste it generates, and compares this measurement to how much land and sea area is available” (Rees, p. 5).

“In these factors of ecologically productive land and sea areas are included those which:

  • Supports human demand for food, fiber, timber, energy and space for infrastructure and;
  • Absorbs the waste products from the human economy.

Some biologically productive areas which we can mention here include cropland, forest and fishing grounds, and do not include deserts, glaciers and the open ocean” (Jansson, p. 32).

On a global scale, the average citizen uses 2.2 global hectares per capita. If we divide all the biologically productive land and sea on Earth by the global population, 1.8 global hectares per capita is available for each person per year, not setting aside any land for other species. Practically, this means currently it would take 1.2 years to regenerate the resources used by humanity in one year. It is important to understand the ecological footprint in order to know how sustainable the lifestyle we are conducting is. People take many things for granted as they will have the resources forever. The ecological footprint tells us how much of these resources are we using and what will the future be if we continue to use the resources at the present level. This is also the main reason why people are asked to perform their ecological footprint calculations. The first step is to know your footprint and the second would be to modify, if necessary, something from your behavior, lifestyle, in order to be within the limits of sustainability. The total per capita footprint is of 18 hectares, which equals 45 acres. That is way over the world average mentioned above. Almost 2/3 of my footprint is based on fossil usage as energy resources. This is mainly for airplane travel and public transportation or taxi usage. Nevertheless, one could argue that these are quite difficult to avoid due to the daily work and routine. Yet, there are some other areas where improvement can be made and shall be made.

Improved ecological footprint

The areas of improvement that need to be addressed first are those of waste and recycling. One major improvement would be the reduction of usage of long lasting, non-recyclable, paper that I use for books or other products and services. I can make a gradual change from non-recycled paper to books and products made of recycled paper. This transition will have a double effect. It will not only affect my non-recyclable paper usage but will also reduce my paper waste. Another improvement would be to gradually diminish the usage of plastic products and use other recyclable alternatives. Yet, the basis would be the cutoff of usage of fossil fuels as a means of gaining products and services along with all other non-recyclable products.

Another major negative influence on the personal footprint is the usage of fossil fuels for electricity and heating and the renting of a US type wood house. Especially the usage of fossil fuels for electrical power and for heating is quite high. 73% of my electrical power and house heating comes from fossil fuels. That needs to be reduced immediately and substituted with more sustainable alternatives. A final consideration that needs change is for the waste of food in my household which tops 50% of the food purchased. If I reduce by ½ the paper waste, use of fossil fuel for electricity, heating and transportation and the waste of food I would see my footprint dramatically decrease. By the new calculations the new ecological footprint would drop from 18 global hectares to 16.9 hectares. And that is more than one hectare of change with not much effort.

Ethics and equity

There is a big difference among nations in regard to the ecological footprint they leave behind. The differences are so big that they range from 0.6 global hectares to 15.6 global hectares. That is more than 25 times difference. Of course this demonstrates that the use of resources is quite unequal in this world. And here lies the great problem of modernity: since everyone has the right to live on the planet than we should be responsible of distributing among each other and pass to the next generation at least what we found in the planet. Thus the question that one should ask himself is whether because of my lifestyle I should be responsible of damaging other people lives (even though they live in another country) and harm the environment.

For example the comparison between the ecological footprints of Bangladesh, 06 gh, and that of the US, 12.22 gh, demonstrates the differences among the use of resources and waste in our times. Even though they have approximately the same population, around 300 or so million, they have a huge difference in waste and resource consumption. And we found millions of people almost starving in Bangladesh because of lack of resources. On the other hand we find millions of obese people which use quite more than what they need. We found that during the last decades the intensity of floods in Bangladesh has increased severely, damaging millions, and scientist point out that it is a result of the global changing of the environment. One should ask himself questions about equity and ethics if is using more resources than the capacity of the earth to generate.

Conclusions

The underlying philosophy of the ecological footprint is: “The limiting factor for human life on this planet is the regenerative capacity of the biosphere; all people are entitled to generate a lifestyle that is as ‘rich’ as anyone else. Humans cannot demand more than a modest and fair share of global productive habitat if ecosystem services/other species are to be protected and if equity is to be achieved.” (Wackernagel et al., p. 6)

What we must realize is that without a proper understanding of the concepts of sustainability and ecological footprint we will harm ourselves in the long term. If our lifestyle is in direct conflict with the natural state of the ecosystems we use for our services and products, than we are ultimately harming ourselves. In the end, there will be less and less resources to be exploited and used. Thus it is necessary to take adequate measures in time so in order to safeguard our future. As demonstrated from my own ecological footprint there is no need to make huge sacrifices. Even by changing our daily ‘small’ habits, like buying only what we eat not to waste much, use less fossil fuel or non-recyclable items, can make a significant difference. That is why it is important to get to know your footprint so that you can take measures.

If our lifestyle is in direct conflict with the natural state of the ecosystems we use for our services and products, than we are ultimately harming ourselves. In the end, there will be less and less resources to be exploited and used. Thus it is necessary to take adequate measures in time so in order to safeguard our future. As demonstrated from my own ecological footprint there is no need to make huge sacrifices. Even by changing our daily ‘small’ habits, like buying only what we eat not to waste much, use less fossil

Fuel or non-recyclable items, can make a significant difference. That is why it is important to get to know your footprint so that you can take measures.

Reference List

Jansson, A. et al.1994. Investing in Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach to Sustainability. Washington D.C.:Island Press.

Rees, W. E. October 1992. “Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity: what urban economics leaves out”. Environment and Urbanisation 4 (2): 121. Web.

Wackernagel, M. et al. 2006. Environment and urbanization. The International Institute of Environment and Urbanization, London: SAGE Publishing.

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