Ecological Footprinting

Do we all have the same ecological footprint?

No. The size of your ecological footprint reflects your way of life. If you cycle to work or school rather than drive, or insulate your house in order to use less heating, then your carbon footprint will be smaller than others who don't. Similarly, if you have your own garden or buy local produce, the food part of your ecological footprint will shrink.

Different regions across the world also differ in their ecological footprints. Generally speaking, richer countries have much larger ecological footprints than poorer ones. Here's a breakdown of different regions' ecological footprints:

Source: Global Footprint Network (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/gfn_sub.php?content=global_footprint)


Why do rich countries have a larger ecological footprint than poorer ones?

In the rich developed world, each person consumes much more than they need in order to survive. Just think of your own life: have you ever bought a new mobile phone even though your old one works perfectly well, used a car when you could have walked, left the lights on when you left a room or bought food grown on the other side of the world? These choices, and many more, contribute to increasing the developed world's ecological footprint to beyond sustainable limits. In poorer underdeveloped parts of the world, people's lives generally involve far less choice, with subsistence (getting by from day to day) the priority. Hence, they use far less of the world's resources, and thus have a smaller ecological footprint.


Does this mean that development is ecologically unsustainable?

No. Development can occur in many ways - some sustainable and others not. Certainly, many forms of development that are promoted are ecologically unsustainable. But equally, a number of sustainable development models exist, in which human, economic and social progress go hand-in-hand with ecological viability.

A simple example: economic progress brings with it increased energy demand. Using traditional fossil fuel energy sources, such as coal or oil, both pollutes the atmosphere and uses up a finite resource. If however investment is focused on renewable sources such as solar, tidal or wind-powered power generation, then development and ecology are reconciled.


How can I find out what my ecological footprint is?

Redefining Progress, a think-tank specialising in smart economics, has developed an online ecological footprint quiz. By asking a series of questions about your lifestyle, it calculates your resource consumption and overall ecological footprint. The quiz takes into account your location, since climate (and, as explained above, wealth) has an impact upon resource consumption.

You can take the quiz by going to www.myfootprint.org