Footprints and Sustainability
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Our "footprint" is the impact that we leave upon the earth. Our footprint comprises all resources we use, reduce, deplete or damage, as well as the wastes we generate, including greenhouse gases. Most of the resources we use are non-renewable and much of the damage is non-repairable.

Our impact on the earth can be represented by the equation I = P x A x T
          Impact (our footprint) = Population (size) x Affluence (wellfare) x Technology.
A valid quantification of our "impact" or "footprint" is difficult and debatable, but our increasing impact can be observed by the quantifiable decrease of resources.

"Sustainability" is a state of balance between resource use and the regenerative capacity of the earth. Our lifestyles are "sustainable" when we use no more resources than nature can replenish and if we produce no more wastes than nature can deal with.

"Overshoot" is a situation where resource consumption and waste production is higher than the earth's carrying capacity. Overshoot is only possible because we deplete resource stocks that the earth has accumulated in the past at vastly different environmental conditions.

"Carrying capacity" is the number of people with a certain "footprint" that the earth can support for a long time, say hundreds of thousands of years. Humans with our shape and intelligence have lived more or less sustainably for some 100,000 to 200,000 years (4,000 to 8,000 generations). Overshoot started with the advent of agriculture and began to increase at the onset of our industrial age around 1750. Dramatic increase in overshoot started in the 20th century, especially after 1950.

"Technology" cannot increase the earth's carrying capacity. On the contrary. It may on first sight reduce pollution and reduce resource use in some areas of life. But ultimately it increases resource consumption since technology uses resources itself. One dangerous and delusive technology is "genetic engineering". Proponents claim GE is needed to feed future populations but forgets that increased crop outputs require increased inputs. Another GMO illusion is the expection that GE could increase crop sizes as populations grow.

"Economic Growth" is economic expansion, i.e. the increase in production and consumption, normally accounted in Gross Domestic Product growth over one year. The GDP is the total monetary value of all economic activity, i.e. agriculture, manufacturing, so-called services (which include such very resource-intensive activities as transportation). The GDP does not distinguish between goods and "bads", i.e. work to repair accidents or outright harmful activities.
So-called "sustainable growth", "immaterial growth", "different growth", "decoupled growth" are theoretical fiction, designed to maintain the growth paradigm that is cherished by most opinion leaders.

"Resource Efficiency" means the lowest possible use of resources (materials) for a given product or service. Increasing a sub-optimal resource efficiency means using less material and this will lead to a short-term reduction of GDP. The savings are normally being used elsewhere and the resource use rebounds to previous levels.

"Development" is - for all practical purposes - an increase in the standard of living people enjoy. Development always entails an increase in resource use and waste production. "Sustainable Development" is therefore not possible. It is a misnomer which disguises the fact that development increases our human footprint.

"Population Growth" is the surplus between births and deaths in one year, presently approx. 75 million people a year. Provided all other conditions stay equal, the global population is expected to rise from 6.7 billion in 2008 to approx. 8.5 to 9.0 billion by 2050.

Climate Change is a result of overshoot. Economic growth increases greenhouse gas emissions. The argument that mitigating climate change would only marginally reduce economic growth is doubly mistaken. Money and investment cannot deal with floods and droughts and landslides. And it fails to understand that growth actually increases the problem. Reducing the climate change problem to energy questions does not recognise the general resource and overshoot picture.

"Energy" is the resource we need to live and to work. We gain our energy from food, which is produced by natural processes. Stone age people took approx. one Human Energy Equivalent from nature, additional to food energy. Since there were few people, nature could easily regenerate.

"Fossil Energy" is the sun's energy that nature has accumulated over hundreds of millions of years, when there were no humans around. The exploitation of fossil energy, especially in modern time, has allowed humanity to grow in numbers and in per capita resource consumption to our present overshoot situation.

"Peak Energy" is the maximum extraction rates from fossil energy stocks, It is expected to happen any time time. After that, the reduced fossil energy flows will lead to reduced industrial and agricultural production, and reduced mobility and transportation of goods. We will have to demechanise and relocalise and use the remaining Oil very wisely for those societal tasks and products that have oil as a non-replaceable resource base.

A "Crisis" is a dangerous maximum, that can last a short instance or a number of years. After the crisis the situation can get either better, or so bad that collaps or death follows.

The "Energy Crisis" is a perceived shortage of fossil energy. The real energy crisis lies in the fact that temporarily abundant fossil energy availabilities have led to the present situation of exorbitant resource use, polltion, destruction of nature and overpopulation.

Hope and Optimism are good when they serve to keep us motivated. They are deadly sins when they prevent people from using the the means we have and instead make them wait for yet-to-be-invented-or-developed future technology.

"Cristalline Intelligence" is a thought pattern that has become rigid because of socio-economic conditioning. As a result it fails or denies to recognise factual scientifc findings that are in conflict with beliefs, hopes, or paradigms.

"Environmentalism" is an attitude and/or activity that is meant ot have a positive result for humanity and to reduce the threat of te demasie of mankind. An analysis of the goals and methods of many well-meaning people and organisation leads to serious doubts on their effectiveness. UmverkehR, for instance, wants to reduce overshoot by promoting public transport but the net result appears being an overall increase i traffic and resource use. Movements like UNEP, WWF, Ecological Footprint Network, or The Global Marshall Plan are arguably counterproductive to achieving a state of sustainability. In separate pages, we'll try ot explain the whys and hows. is r and a thought pattern that hs become rigid because of socio-economic conditioning and as a result fails or denies to recognise factual scientifc findings that are in conflict with beliefs, hopes, or paradigms.

The more we produce and consume, the heavier we are. Our footprint becomes deeper and more visible. More people require more food, water, clothes, housing, roads, space - more of everything.
Higher standards of living, more luxury has the same effect. More renewable and non-renewable resources, i.e. food, fish, water, forest, etc. is appropriated for human consumption. The total stock being finite and unchangeable, less space and food and resources are left for other animals, birds, fish, insect, i.e. for all living beings that make up the so-called web of life, that is "nature". The balance is changed by human expansion, that is growing economic activity and population size, as well as the level of technology that we use. This is generally expressed in the equation

This is the Environmental Resource Use Impact of humanity. The ERUI comprises all resources used and depleted, renewable and non-renewable, as well as pollution including greenhouse gas emissions. We know of no quantititave figure that would express the total Impact we have. But we know the relative depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources, the speed of further depletion and the estimated time left for total depletion at a given rate of resoure consumption. Our Environmental Resource Use Footprint is not directly quantifiable. But by observation of the impacts we have in many areas of nature we know that we are using too much. We are living in an "Overshoot" situation. We are in fact consuming resource stocks that nature has accumulated over hundreds of millions of years avery long time ago. We are living off non-renewable natural capital such as minerals, ground water streams, forests, fertile soils, fossil fuels and nuclear power. This is the basis for our present population size and standard of living. Once these temporary, and seemingly abundant stocks get scarcer, we will be forced to reduce human numbers and per capita (luxury) consumption.

Standard economic practice is to count the resources we take from nature as "income", aalthough we factually consme our capital. The gross Domestic Product also does not distinguish between economic activity that has a positive result for our lives and those activities that are costs only, like transportation and money spent on repairs after accidents.

One particular model, the Ecological Footprint, is being promoted as a quantitative account of our biological resource use and a method to reduce our footprint. We believe this Ecological Footprint creates a certain confusion and we therefore made the following anaysis, based upon their 2008 brocchure "Ecological Footprint Accouting - Building a Winning Hand".
Statements by the Ecological Footprint Network Ecological commentary
[front page]
Humanity now demands the equivalent of 1.3 Earths to meet our needs. Moderate United Nations scenarios suggest that if current trends continue human1ty will demand 2 Earths by 2050. We are in ecological overshoot, using more resources and emitting more wastes than the Earth can regenerate in a year. Yet the Earth cannot cope with our increasing resource demand for long, and every day our room to manoeuvre is shrinking and our decisions are determining the future. [image overshoot graph] The Ecological Footprint compares the biologically the Earth's available capacity. In 2007, we used 30 productive land and water areas a human population percent more than the Earth's available capacity. Yet requires to produce the resources it consumes and to a number of countries exceed this global average absorb its wastes. The graph shows humanity's soa- by as much as 500 percent. ring Footprint: in 1961, we consumed 50 percent of the Earth's available capacity. In 2007 we used 30 percent more than the Earth's availablecapacity. Yet a number of countries exceed this global average by as much as 500 percent.
The "ecological footprint" is basically for renewable resources only. It includes a theoretical, albeit underestimated factor for non-renewable resources.
No number of planets can compensate for non-rewable resources, which make up the major part of our present impact on the planet.
THE RULES OF THE GAME HAVE CHANGED In the past, the name of the game in our global economy has been quick profits - often at the planet's expense. But in today's world, where humanity is already exceeding planetary limits, ecological assets are becoming more critical. They are most valuable when they are managed well and therefore able to serve the human economy for years to come.



The effects of ecological overshoot are already visible: Jeffrey Sachs, renowned development economist from Columbia University, points to increased water shortages, desertification, land erosion, stalled progress on crop productivity, declining groundwater tables, overgrazing, tropical deforestation, massive extinction of species, overfishing, and climate change. In the new game, survival and economic success will depend on knowing and working with the new rules.
The "New Rules" stay firmly within the economics paradigm, in as far as they speak of competitiveness.

Jeffrey Sachs is correct in pointing at degradation of the natural environment.
Yet the same Professor believes that the world economy can grow fourfold by 2050.
A world that is being overused by a huge overpopulation of humans at exorbitant lifestyles cannot support a further expansion of their economies.
The goal of the game is for all of humanity to live satisfying lives within the means of the Earth. This objective will be achieved when, at least on average, all countries reach sustainable development, as it is defined in the bottom right hand box in the diagram below. But as global population grows and more countries surpass their own ecological limits, the strain on global resources increases, and the prospect of sustainable development shrinks. What is the alternative to sustainable development? Ecological scarcity and resource wars; increased political and economic instability; and human suffering.

Threshold for high human development, according to UNDP - Global average available biocapacity per person (with no space set aside for wild species)

Can we move towards sustainable development? Sustainable development occurs when all humans can have fulfilling lives, without degrading our planet. In the diagram, the sustainable development box is defined by the Ecological Footprint and the Human Development Index (HDI), an indicator af socioeconomic development. The United Nations considers an HDI higher than 0.8 to be "high human development". Given current global population and available land area, Ecological Footprints above 1.8 global hectares per person are not replicable. Despite growing commitments to sustainable development, most countries do not meet both minimum requirements.
"Sustainable development" is an oxymoron. It is a process, not a situation. All development means growth. Therefor no development (growth) can be sutainable, i.e. last for a long time. The Human Development Index accounts for three single factors, which however do not reflect ecological concerns.

Resource wars are already happening. Actually all wars are resource wars. In the end they will lead to total destruction and depletion.
In the new game - of living within the means of one planet - GDP becomes a less valuable indicator of wealth and the distinctions between developing and developed countries are less meaningful. More significant is whether a country is an ecological debtor or an ecological creditor. Ecological debtors, those nations who use more resources than they have within their borders, will face more risks and will have to pay a higher price for their sustenance. Ecological creditors, those countries with biological capacity exceeding their own consumption, will have the stronger hand to play.

Ecological debtors:
. Footprint more than 50% larger than biocapacity . Footprint 0-50% larger than biocapacity
Creditor nations can use their natural assets for biodiversity protection, for increased consumption by their own residents, or for export. Ecological debtors suffer from an increasing need for imports and a decreasing base of domestic ecological assets.
Ecological creditors
. Biocapacity more than 50% larger than
Footprint . Biocapacity 0-50% larger than footprint
Managing and strengthening ecological assets to benefit a nation's citizens, with increasing pressures for export from the global economy, is a challenge. It requires foresight, careful leadership, and robust resource accounting and planning tools.
There are no ecological debtors or creditors. Such terminology creates the wrong impression that overused resources could be paid back some time in the future.

Most rich countries have high living standards because of imported resources, both renewable and non-renewable.
But those countries that are seemingly below the ecological footprint's renewability treshold are still depleting their own environments irreversably. Bresil is a case in point. Their deforestated Amazone forest with its biodiversity are gone forever. On their soils the soy cattle feed is produced for or our meat consumption.
Each country has its own ecological risk profile and a unique path towards sustainable development. Three factors can help any country work toward living within its means: 1. Use sustainable production practices that allow for increased wealth without increased resource use. Resource efficient infrastructure is key. 2. Reduce and reverse population growth by giving women in your country full access to education and family planning support. 3. Maintain and increase biologicql capacity (the ability of an ecosystem to provide resources and absorb waste) through careful management, improved irrigation, re-forestation, topsoil maintenance, and conservation.

These cards show how resource trends are playing out in three countries. World-average biological capacity is shown as a common reference. If the country's Ecological Footprint is higher than biological capacity, the country is an ecological debtor. . Morocco: The Moroccan Footprint per capita is relatively stable over time. The biological capacity per person is for below world average. Due to drought conditions, the biological capacity fluctuates. . Switzerland: Due to efficiency increases, the Swiss per person Footprint has flattened, though at a high level. Switzerland's Footprint is far higher than Switzerland's biological capacity. The country is very dependent on other countries' ecological assets. . Tanzania: The Ecological Footprint per person is decreasing. But population growth pushed the biological capacity per capita below the world average. Today's policy, investment, and infrastructure decisions will determine our resource use for decades to come. For example, is our future energy demand met by coal or wind? Is our mobility dependent on cars or public transportation? Will there be further population growth or will the numbers stabilize? Ecological Footprint accounting informs strategic decision-making, and for every large-scale decision you can influence, you have a choice: to support building resource traps, or to invest in opportunities that safeguard our future.

Are you investing in resource traps or opportunities? Is our new infrastructure leaving us a positive legacy that allows us to operate in a resource-constrained world or is it a trap that undermines a sustainable future2 Moderate United Nations scenarios imply that if current trends continue by 2050 humanity's Footprint will be twice what the Earth can sustain (green line). Our accumulated ecological debt may lead to ecosystem collapses around the world. We only have a few decades to bring society back into one planet living, but with the right information and human ingenuity we can win the ultimate resource game, if we all build a winning hand.
There is considerable confusion. The "ecological footprint" is often quoted as representing all human resource use, whereas it counts for biologiocally renewable resources only.


A footprint has a size and a weight. Together they determine the impact on the area that supports the footprint. The footprint represents the consumption of resources per year.

Renewable resources are products made of plant and animal material, water, etc.. They are regenerated by the interactive functioning of nature, that is the balances of living beings and non-living material on Earth.
Non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, uranium, metals and minerals, are finite stocks, that are not renewed by nature.

Our human footprint consists of our annual consumption of renewables and non-renewables.
If our consumption of renewables is higher than their rate of regeneration, we will run out of food and fibre.
If our depletion rate of non-renewables is low in comparison to the available stocks, we can carry on for a relatively long period of time.

Sustainability refers to a level of human resource consumption that can be maintained for a very long time, theoretically forever. If our human footprint is too high it can not be sustained by the Earth for a long time.

Presently, our human footprint is too high, in almaost all sectors of resource consumption. It is not sure, however, in which sector the depletion will first reach the critical point that may lead to a collapse of the human socio-economic structures. It could be lack of food, clean water, an illness, toxification and pollution, lack of fossil energy or something else.

Climate change and its effects are a result of air pollution by greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide, methane, CFCs and water vapour). Climate change is under way and not stoppable. Carbon dioxide cannot be sequestered by human efforts, nor by nature within human time scales. (The Kyoto protocoll will not help since its mechanisms are technically not workable and its goals are far below the level that is required.)

What is our human time scale?

How sustainable are our socio-economic ways of living? How long can we carry on "business as usual"?

  • Fragegespräch im Bund (Bern) vom 1.12.07 "Wir bauen ökologische Schulden auf"
  • Footprint comments regarding New Zealand and Wackernagel
  • The Living Planet Facts and Figures WWF's and Wackernagel's "Footprint" account
  • Ecologocal Footprint" compared to "Environmental Impact"
  • footprints and sustainability
  • Area-based Sustainability - William Rees 1995
  • sustainability
  • ecological footprint - wikipedia

  • Votre opinion - Ihre Meinung
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