ecostory 53/2007
footprints and sustainability - New Zealand
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A feedback on footprint calculations to the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment

- Sunday, 17 June 2007 1:46 a.m. To: Reporting
Cc: Info at MfE;
Subject: footprint calculator (Wackernagel's flawed and harmful concept)

Hello downunder,
I notice that you are "refining" your ecological footprint calculator
( ).

In 2002 I wrote an email to, commenting positively on your methodology (see copy further down).

I am now perusing the report on NZ sustainability and I find the following:
<<< excerpt from page >>>
"The ecological footprint measures the total amount of productive land (in hectares) required to support a given population. It is increasingly being used as an indicator of sustainability performance after being developed by Wackernagel and Rees (1996) in the early 1990s.

The New Zealand ecological footprint was calculated to be 11,684,500 ha for 1997/98. This represents the total amount of land required to sustain the New Zealand population in 1997/98. It consists of inputs of agricultural land (8,036,600 ha), forest land (744,410 ha), degraded/ built-up land (959,250 ha) and of so-called energy land (1,944,940 ha) which is the hypothetical amount of land required to absorb the CO2 emissions produced by New Zealand.

[...] This means, assuming the per capita footprint remains unchanged, New Zealand could increase its population by 1.52 times before it overshoots its carrying capacity. New Zealand is, in fact, one of the few developed countries along with Canada and Australia that lives within its land-based carrying capacity, and in that sense can be considered a sustainable economy."
<<< end of excerpt >>>

IF your upgraded footprint calculator is going to be based on the above theoretical basis, it will - unfortunately - become scientifically wrong.

Wackernagel says that his ecological footprint is ONLY covering BIOLOGICALLY RENEWABLE resources. This can NOT be taken as a measure for overall sustainability. And exactly this is mostly forgotten, thereby leading to a wrong feeling of relative safety.

For a society to be called "sustainable" one must consider ALL resources consumed, such as minerals, groundwater, soil, space, climate (greenhouse gases and climate change), pollution, etc. Even the inclusion of the hypothetical amount of so-called "energy land" is a hoax since the fossil enrgy that we are using was accumulated over a much longer time, some 200 million years, than the short period in which we are burning up these resources (some 300 years) AND thereby producing irreversible climate change.

Wackernagel's ecological footprint is factually harmful to the need to become sustainable since it generates the wrong notions with the public. It is nonsense, for example, to claim that humanity (worldwide) would have lived ecologically sustainable till 1980 approximately.

Factually humanity has overshot the earth's carrying capacity manyfold. We should return to the resource use and per capita impact of befor 1750 to become approximately sustainable again.

For further comments see my page .

Just one last comment here. When surfing for the footprint one stumbles over carbon-offset schemes. That of course is the biggest cheat one can imagine. Yet many people fall for it. It is like redemption certificates that the church sold in the dark dark middle ages. Making money with the bad conscience of people.

I hope my comments are useful and thank you in advance for your reaction.

Kind regards ... Helmut Lubbers
<<< copy of mail dated 08.11.2002 21:52 >>>
Hello down under,

I have put a link to your footprint calculator on my site
I find the comments very sensible.
I could not find a direct link to the footprint/details.htm on the footprint pages.

The interesting feature of your calculations is that you directly convert dollars into impact on the environment. For me this is the one and only universal method applicable, since every dollar represents a given quantity of resources (as long as a product does not have an emotional value, such as classical paintings).

How does is work when I convert Euros into NZ dollars, as I suggest in my link? Can I do this or should one use a factor that considers the equivalent purchasing power of the currency?

Where I do not see clear yet is how this principle of dollar = impact works with regard to "green" products that have a tendency to be more expensive since (in agriculture) chemicals have been replaced by labour. Could you forward this question to one of your specialists?

I tend to believe that fruits being flewn in from overseas are lighhter on the environment as long as their price is lower than locally grown products. Because the local products support the more elaborate lifestyle and that is all included in the price.

With thanks and kind regards,

Helmut Lubbers
<<< end of copy >>>

  • Fragegespräch im Bund (Bern) vom 1.12.07 "Wir bauen ökologische Schulden auf"
  • "Our Carbon Footprint" and "ecological footprint"
  • 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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