Determining Your Ecological Footprint:
an ecological footprint
To begin our discussion about ecological footprints, each student was asked to visit a website–http://www.ecofoot.org/–and use the Ecological Footprint Calculator to estimate his/her ecological footprint. After each student emailed his/her results, Mr. Willard was then able to compile the results and determine an average for our class ecological footprint.
In our textbook, per capita ecological footprint is defined as the amount of biologically productive land and water needed to supply an individual with renewable resources and to absorb and recycle the wastes and pollution produced by resource use. It is an estimate of an individual’s consumption of earth’s resources. This definition is important to understand; one’s ecological footprint includes the impact of the food, shelter, mobility, goods, and services in our lives.
Currently, the equation I = PAT can be used to estimate a nation’s ecological footprint (I = impact, P = population, A = affluence, and T = technology). As Kyle kindly pointed out during our discussion, this equation is ridiculously oversimplified! But it can be used to help us roughly approximate a nation’s impact on the environment:
China’s Impact = (1.3 billion people) (affluence of 2) (technology level of 8 ) = 24.
United States’ Impact = (.3 billion people) (affluence of 5) (technology level of 4) = 6.
Kyle argued that affluence did not necessarily correspond directly with a nation’s environmental impact. In other words, the United States is a very wealthy nation but our affluence does not necessarily mean that we have a greater environmental impact. Or does it? The United States makes up only 5% of the world’s population, but we are responsible for 25% of the world’s pollution!
During our class discussion, several arguments were made regarding this issue. Does affluence = bigger ecological footprint? Overall, we concluded that “it’s all about trade-offs.” Some folks are wiser and use their money to invest in compact fluorescent light bulbs which are more energy friendly while some less economical folks spend their money on luxurious vacations! =)
So when should we feel guilty about our ecological footprint? After completing the activity on the Global Footprint Network site, my own ecological footprint was calculated to be this: if everyone in the world lived as I do, it would take 6.8 planets and 30.2 acres of land to sustain the world’s population. Yikes?! We only have 1 planet to sustain the world, and if there were 6.8 billion of me, we would need 6.8 planets! Well, this is precisely why studying environmental science is so important; we must work to find solutions!
Right now, the world’s population is following a constant, exponential growth rate (a J-curve). But what is the earth’s carrying capacity? As our population continues to grow, the earth’s carrying capacity cannot grow along with it. There is a limited amount of materials and resources; the only resource we can “import” is solar energy, and even a great amount of this energy source is lost through radiation, etc. Unfortunately, as our affluence increases, the carrying capacity of the earth will decrease as more and more people will be able to live “less simple” more extravagant lifestyles. More people will be able to afford to “overindulge,” “over consume,” and “over use,” the earth’s resources.
The trick is finding an appropriate balance! The world is constantly changing and nations are always transitioning. Until the 1970s, the United States neglected the rise of industry’s impact on the environment. So as other nations of the world develop, do they have the same right to industrialize even if it has a negative impact on the environment? Or is it our duty to stop these nations from making the same mistakes as us?
Thanks for an interesting class discussion! I hope this post helps us keep all of today’s arguments and information organized!
Here are some additional articles to check out regarding ecological footprints:
“Carbon Footprint of Best Conserving Americans is Still Double Global Average” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428120658.htm
“Calculator of Carbon Footprint for Nations” http://www.carbonfootprintofnations.com/content/calculator/82/
“Ecological Footprint” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint
Molly Snyder =)