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December 13, 2007

What is Your Ecological Footprint?

FootprintThe Footprint Network tells us that this year, we have finished consuming all the natural resources the world produces for the year, on Oct 18.  Globally we humans now requires 1.3 planets to support us.  In other words, we are not living sustainably.  We are borrowing resources from future generation in order to cover all our consumption needs today.  This calculation is made by calculating humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries) and compares it with global biocapacity (the ability of these ecosystems to generate resources and absorb wastes).

The Ecological Debt Day has been creeping earlier on the calendar. According to current calculations, humanity’s first Ecological Debt Day was December 19, 1987 - the first time we spend more than earth can replenish.  Since then, our eco-footprint has continued to grow, and we are exhausting the world's natural supply earlier and earlier each year.


This reminds me of the glaciers I saw in Alaska.  According to the park ranger, the melting of these glaciers are significantly faster each year in the past few years.  The amount that used to melt in 3 months is now melting in a week.  Apparently, within a decade, most of the glaciers up north will be gone.  This very visible impact of our increasing demand on earth’s capacity to support life is scary stuff.  However, since each of us contributes to the problem, we can each do something about it.  We pretty much owe it to our grandchildren, don’t we?  Borrowing against their bank of future natural resources just to satisfy our own personal needs today for more stuffs, is pretty irresponsible of us. 

Since we are spending a deficit of 30% in natural resources this year, let's see what that means closer to home.  Say you are spending 30% more money than you earn each month, and you keep on with it, you will need to constantly borrow against those credit cards to finance yourself.  The lifestyle may seems good in the short-run because you can keep buying the things you want soooo much to have, but what are you doing to yourself in the long run?  You will need to work forever, just to pay the interest and minimum payments.  You will never get out of debt.  Is the short-term worth doing?    Definitely not.  The only solution then is to immediately start spending below your earnings so that you can make a dent on already accumulated debt.

Now the forests, oceans, soil, climate, and air around us do revive themselves so we have been taking them for granted somewhat.  They provide services necessary for our lives, such as oxygen, food sources, medicinal sources, and various cleaning services that keep our water supply potable and available.   There is no “Ecological Debt” credit card statement in our mailbox to remind us.  However, there are plenty of evidences of them suffering.  Scientists are most worried about ecological overshoot, when a natural system is so taxed that it cannot recover by itself.  Remember the collapse of the Great Banks fisheries off the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia in 1992, forcing its closure?  The Atlantic cod fish stock was decimated. 

I found an intriguing competition by, called the Ecological Debt Day video competition ending Jan 31st, 2008.  They, along with Footprint Network, are trying to get the word out on the concept of ecological overshoot.  Perhaps you can think of an innovative way to describe overshoot by tying the concept into your daily life -- e.g. commute, home, or work.   

While the footprint concept seems to be related to the renewable capability of planet earth, I think it is relevant to an automotive blog, since our cars are the biggest contributors to GHG emissions, which taxes our atmosphere's capability to regulate earth's temperature and air quality properly.

Extrazoom Marn-Yee Lee
Contributing Editor

Marn-Yee Lee is pursuing an MBA in Sustainability at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco.  After spending a decade in I.T. and on Wall Street, she is now pursuing her passion for the environment.  She sees business as a partner for creating innovative solutions to pressing environmental issues. In her spare time, she writes a blog to inspire others to consider the impact of their daily lives on the environment at

Flickr photo by ~dabbler~  (formerly jowo)


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