The Ecological Footprint Approach

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The Ecological Footprint Approach

The Ecological Footprint Approach


In 1994, Rees & Wackernagel first presented “ecological footprint” as a concept to illustrate the physical land surface area required for sustaining the present level of resource use and waste discharge by the human population. According to their estimations, the population in the Lower Fraser Valley in British Columbia relies on the consumption of an area 19 times than its supply, exceeding clearly defined limits of food, renewable and non-renewable resources and energy consumption. By comparing the Netherlands with North America, they were able to determine that the current human population was not sustainable if their consumption patterns changed to imitate those of the U.S. It would require two planets to sustain the “demand” on nature (Folke et al., 1998). The documentary “The Ecological Footprint: Accounting for a Small Planet” discusses the Ecological Footprint Approach in considerable detail and makes a strong case for its benefits. The purpose of this assignment is to comment of the benefits and limitations of this approach, recognizing that alternatives to the Ecological Footprint Approach exist now.


Earth's Present Level of Environmental Health

As the documentary “The Ecological Footprint: Accounting for a Small Planet” identified, WWF's The Living Report outlines the world's environmental health at present. The figure below is taken from the 2012 report, illustrating the Global Ecological Footprint, 2011.

(WWF, 2012)

The figure above illustrates the latest available figures for the year 2008. In this year, the ecological footprint surpassed the biocapacity of the Earth - productive land and oceans that sustain renewable resources and absorb carbon emissions - by more than 50 per cent (The Living Report, 2012). The trend shows an ecological overshoot, which is a term that defines the situation of the ecological footprint exceeding the current global biocapacity at any level. After examining the current status of our planet's environmental health, we can move onto our critique of the Ecological Footprint Approach.

An Evaluation of the Ecological Footprint Approach

There are a number of approaches that account for environmental biocapacity and consumption, as well as environmental health. These approaches have developed considerably over the last fifteen years, with the inclusion of many approaches alternate to the ecological footprint approach. These include life-cycle and systemic energy assessments to name a few, as well as the Sustainable Process Index. Despite the existence of many alternatives, Wackernagel, Lewan & Hansson believe that the ecological footprint is one of the most proficient approaches of presenting the case for human demands on nature's limited supply. The ecological footprint approach measures biologically productive areas per person to ascertain environmental sustainability (Wackernagel, Lewan & Hansson, 1999).


Since global consumption is encapsulated in the ecological footprint approach by measuring biologically productive land and ocean, global biocapacity and world-average yield becomes comparable on an international scale (Wackernagel, Lewan & Hansson, 1999).

Also, the footprint analysis allows for a direct comparison of the demand and supply of nature and the consequences for long-tern environmental sustainability in simplistic terms (Wackernagel, Lewan & Hansson, 1999).

The Ecological Footprint Approach is considered ...
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