The footprint

The 'footprint' is a useful and powerful teaching tool for analysing our impact on the planet. An 'ecological footprint' is the productive land necessary to support people in their lifestyle. Footprint researchers have calculated the potential productivity of the land and sea available on this planet and divided this by the population. If we allocate 12% of land for biodiversity, then our individual share of productive land is 1.9 hectares.

It has been calculated that if everyone lived the average British lifestyle we would need 3 planets like earth to support us. If everyone on the planet consumed the resources that the average person in Bangladesh does we would only be using a bit more than a third of the Earth's resources. If everyone lived like the average US citizen we would need 5 planets. 20% of the world's population have 86% of the world's wealth.

Because so many of us are consuming so much, the total resources consumption of the 6 billion people now on the planet is using 1.5 times the resources available (we would need another half a planet to provide for present consumption sustainably). Consuming more than is available seems impossible, but what we are doing is "spending the capital", ruining areas of the planet by polluting them, causing soil erosion etc and therefore reducing the amount of productive land available.

It would not be practical to try to just use our own individual 1.9 ha share. We can't each have our own little bit of sea and wheatfield. We have to look at sharing global resources efficiently.

Questions -
1] does everyone need the same footprint at every stage of their lives? Do we need to use more resources when we are children, young people, in our working lives or retired?
2] supposing our country has got less land than we need to provide for our share (i.e. less than 1.9ha), what should happen?

The footprint can be used in teaching to make it clear who uses most of the world's resources and causes most of the environmental damage and who uses least. It can also be used as a starting point to look at reducing our impact on the planet to a sustainable level. So, in the UK we have to reduce our impact to a third of its present level. We then need a breakdown of our footprint which measures the impact of different activities so that we can focus our efforts on the ones that are really significant.

We can certainly identify some things that have a considerable negative impact
  • Buying unnecessary goods
  • Driving cars
  • Plane travel
  • Burning fossil fuels to heat buildings.

    What is sustainability?
    What is sustainable development?
    Definitions of sustainability
    Three dimensions of sustainable design
    Why things need to change
    How do we add to problems?
    What would a sustainable world be like?
    Climate change
    Datschefskiā€™s principles of sustainable design