Did you know that Californians consume more than five times their state’s available ecological resources? Since the population’s resource demands have brought California into ecological deficit, we might have to re-consider California as the Land of Plenty.
In March 2013, Global Footprint Network and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Pacific Southwest Region published the Ecological Footprint for California (an interactive presentation is also online). It was not only the first major Ecological Footprint report at the U.S. state level, but also the first published in collaboration with a U.S. government agency. As part of EPA’s Framework for Sustainability Indicators project, the report aimed to quantify California’s resource demand against its supply. Such actionable information helps decision makers recognize resource dynamics as a significant driver of economic performance.
If California were a country, it would have the world’s 15th largest per capita Ecological Footprint (the United States is ranked fifth). California’s per capita Ecological Footprint is less than the nation’s as a whole mostly because of its lower per capita CO2 emissions. In California, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32) encourages energy efficiency, mild weather reduces energy demand, and renewable energy sources such as hydropower exist. Yet CO2 emissions still account for 73 percent of California’s Ecological Footprint. Personal transportation contributes to a fourth of these emissions.
Yet California’s low per capita biocapacity is just one surprise the report discovered. Another is that its population consumes 35 percent less agricultural and fishery products than the national average.
The Ecological Footprint for California report also served as a technical exercise for Global Footprint Network to employ both bottom-up and top-down analyses in the same report—the first major test of both methodologies together. The bottom-up Ecological Footprint calculation combined the Ecological Footprint of all products consumed by California’s population, while the top-down Ecological Footprint calculation adjusted for relative differences between national and California consumption. Since the Ecological Footprints derived from each method matched so closely, Global Footprint Network’s upcoming “State of the States” project exploring New England’s Ecological Footprint will also incorporate both analyses.
Of course, the Ecological Footprint for California report highlights broader implications for the state. Because Californians consume more than five times their state’s available ecological resources, California depends on external biocapacity (an ecosystem’s ability to regenerate resources and absorb carbon dioxide emissions) to make up for its ecological deficit. As trading ecological resources becomes more expensive, managing state ecological resources will be crucial for mitigating risk.
But there is still opportunity to reverse trends and set the state’s course for a sustainable future. “As a global center of innovation,” the report says, “California has the ability to address this challenge.”
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