By Ruby Shumaker
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the term “carbon footprint,” a measure of the amount of carbon emitted by an individual, an organization, or an activity. However, as I learned from a website from the Global Footprint Network, this footprint model is today often replaced by the Ecological Footprint as the major measure of humanity’s demand on nature. The Global Footprint Network is a nonprofit organization established to enable a sustainable future on the Earth. The organization recognizes that in order to make this goal a reality, it is important to accurately measure human impact on the Earth to make more informed choices about our actions. For this reason, its mission is to accelerate the use of the Ecological Footprint, providing scientific data to drive large-scale, social change.
The site includes lots of great resources including information on the organization’s current programs and initiatives, links to each of its 90 partner organizations, a blog, and large sections detailing the components of an Ecological Footprint and the science behind it. When I first visited the site, I wanted to know the difference between an Ecological Footprint and a Carbon Footprint. So, I checked out the Carbon Footprint section of the site under the “Footprint Basics” tab. I found out that rather than measuring the amount of carbon emitted in tons, the Ecological Footprint translates the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the amount of productive land and sea area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions. This way, the Ecological Footprint shows us how our carbon emissions compare and interact with other elements of human demand, like our pressure on food sources and the amount of land we consume when we pave over it to build cities and roads. While the carbon component makes up 54% of humanity’s overall footprint and is the most rapidly growing component, the Ecological Footprint allows us to address the problem in a comprehensive way.
There’s lots of information on the site about calculating Ecological Footprints for the world, for nations, for cities, and for businesses, but my favorite part of the site is the Personal Footprint Calculator. It’s a fun, interactive quiz (you even get to design an avatar!) that asks you questions about your lifestyle, such as how often you consume meat, how many miles you drive per week, and how often you recycle, to tell you how much land area it takes to support your lifestyle. At the end of the quiz, it lets you know how many Earth’s we’d need if everyone on the planet lived your lifestyle (The Average American would require 5 Earths, I got 4), along with a breakdown of how much land you use in various areas of consumption. It also give you suggestions on how to reduce your Ecological Footprint. So, what’s your ecological footprint? Take the quiz and find out!