Ecological Footprint


 Ecological Footprints - A History

When we talk about ecological footprints, let us first talk about why it is important to measure them. The idea of measuring these footprints first came about as a result of the environmental movement. The environmental movement is a social, political and scientific movement for addressing environmental issues. It focuses on the fact that humanity is not an enemy of, but rather a participant in ecosystems. There are a large number of organisations all over the world involved in the movement, but their goals might not be always united.

The Environmental movement first started as a result of the large amount of smoke pollution released into the environment during the industrial revolution in the 19th century. As a result, The Alkali Acts – the first major environmental laws – were passed in Britain in 1863. Another facet of the environmental movement – the conservation movement started in India. Many famous foresters from Germany, Netherlands, Britain and elsewhere joined India’s forest conservation organisations in order to stop the unregulated and unrestrained felling of trees in the Indian forests by the Britishers, causing widespread deforestation. In recent times, the extinction of several species of flora and fauna has set off world-wide anxiety about the dangers of artificial pollution. Books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which shocked the world by ascribing the extinction and endangerment of bird species to the pollutive effects of DDT have sold millions of copies and have become increasingly popular. The clearest example of how far the movement has come today is the world-wide celebration of the Earth Day which is a symbol of the movement.

As humans are becoming more concerned about the environment, they decided to figure out if the Earth can handle the burden of the usage of resources that we are putting on it. And that is how the concept of ecological footprints came about. The basic measurement of ecological footprint is done through an ecological accounting system.

Ecological footprints measure the human demand on nature, or the amount of resources required to support human life that are taken from nature. On the demand side, it adds up all the productive surface areas through which the natural resources we consume are produced and to absorb the waste especially carbon emissions. For the supply side of the accounting table, the region’s biocapacity is measured which is the productivity of its ecological assets. Thus, it is the measure of human impact on the ecosystem of the Earth. The method for the measurement of ecological footprints was created in 1992 by Dr William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel at the University of British Columbia. In order to measure footprint, the energy used can be converted into carbon footprint, settlements are measured in terms of built-up land, timber and papers in terms of forestlands, food and fibre in terms of croplands and pasture and seafood in the terms of fisheries, and so on.  If a regions ecological footprint exceeds its biocapacity, then that region is running at a biocapacity deficit which we more often call an ecological deficit. Such regions meet their demand through imports, overusing their ecological assets such as through overfishing, or through emitting carbon dioxide waste in the atmosphere. On the other hand, if a region’s biocapacity exceeds its ecological footprint, it has a biocapacity reserve.

Ecological footprints are used to manage the use of resources. In 2013, a study conducted by Global Footprints Network estimated that the world-average ecological footprint is about 2.8 global hectares per person (gha) which is 1.6 times the carrying capacity of the Earth. India has the third heaviest ecological footprint in the world and its resource use is double its biocapacity due to its large population but in comparison to other countries India has a much lighter footprint on average. The average ecological footprint in the USA is around 8.22 gha while it is just around 1.16 gha in India

India’s ecological footprint has doubled since the 1970s. At the rate at which we are consuming resources and generating waste today, we would require two countries the size of India to sustain our expenditure and survive. We have been depleting our ecological resources at a fast pace for decades now but the current government’s plan for urbanisation and smart cities is draining the resources more quickly than ever. Yet, while the Indian economy is growing, the average footprint per person is actually declining, which suggests that while the population is growing, the amount of resources is stagnant or declining.

This alarming trend seems to suggest that the government must intervene to ensure that the development of the country is environmentally sustainable. Its objective of building smart cities is taking a toll on the biocapacity of India. To ensure that we do not exceed the biocapacity of the country, the government must look for alternate energy resources and reduce its focus on fossil fuels.

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