Footprint Network Blog
A woman in India, where Global Footprint Network is working with communities on sustainable development.
For the first time, Global Footprint Network is partnering with other NGOs to support both sustainable and human development at the community level in India. While Global Footprint Network projects often target decision-makers at the national, sub-national, and city levels, this new pilot in India aims to give local villagers a more informed voice in shaping development in their communities. The project, titled "Sustainable Development Return on Investment: Empowering Communities and Measuring Investment Effectiveness," or SDRoI, is a partnership with International Development Enterprises-India, Gram Vikas (of India) and Fundación Escuela Nueva (of Colombia).
Pragyan Bharati (right), Global Footprint Network’s India director, is leading the 18-month project. She holds a doctorate in sociology and is a social development specialist with experience in leading various water and sanitation projects with ONE DROP, UNICEF, and the government of Odisha’s Ministry of Rural Development.
We asked Pragyan a few questions about the new project.
1. Where in India are you working?
PRAGYAN: I live in the eastern coastal state of Odisha, and that's also where the project is taking place. The state is rich in natural resources, minerals and biodiversity. It also has a unique cultural heritage with 62 different indigenous tribes living there. However, the state has a high incidence of poverty.
It’s a tropical area with high temperatures and recurring natural disasters like cyclones, floods and droughts. Last year the state was hit by the severe Cyclone Phailin and then massive floods that marooned hundreds of thousands of people and killed 44.
2. Which communities will you engage with?
PRAGYAN: We will be working with nine to 12 rural communities where our partner organizations operate. We are still exploring the criteria for selecting communities, but some will be low-income, tribal villages in the interior pockets of the state. More than 2,000 villagers will be directly influenced by this project.
3. What are the goals of the SDRoI project?
PRAGYAN: There are two main goals. One is to empower local communities to own, negotiate, and manage their own socio-economic development through the use of the SDRoI tool that we will be creating with them. Secondly, we intend to measure donor agency investments against both local development goals and global sustainability development goals.
Intense engagement with communities through use of the SDRoI tool will enable them to make informed decisions and choices about their own development needs and goals and negotiate better with different service providers and planners from both government and non-governmental agencies.
For example, let’s assume the community was considering clearing an area of land in order to build a factory. Rather than prescribe a certain action, the tool would estimate benefits and potential losses of building the factory based on the community’s human development needs and its resources. This could include economic benefits to the community and decreased unemployment as well as the loss of ecological habitat and pollution.
4. What kind of tool will you be using?
PRAGYAN: The tool will be a data-driven, science-based framework that captures the two core dimensions of sustainable development. Development is mapped using the UN’s widely recognized Human Development Index (HDI) and the resource constraints are captured with Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounting.
HDI measures human well-being based on longevity, literacy and income. An HDI of more than 0.67 is considered to be "high development."
Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity accounting will enable us to measure the degree to which communities are living within the means of the resource base available to them. We will compare the population’s demand on the community's resources to the biocapacity under control of the community members.
We are currently in the process of refining the metric to better adapt it to local situations and the needs of our partners.
5. What are the biggest challenges?
PRAGYAN: As exciting as the project is, I foresee one of the challenges to be designing an effective communications strategy to reach out to our target audience, as I expect many to be tribal communities with their own indigenous languages and scripts.
It could also be a challenge to shift the prevalent attitude within communities from dependence on external aid towards self - reliance, making informed development decisions and taking action themselves.
But we have great partners and resources. Right now I am doing a lot of ground work, visiting different villages, meeting with local partners and villagers, and mapping various resources for the project.
6. Tell us about your background and experience.
PRAGYAN: Initially I taught sociological concepts and theories at the undergraduate level. After obtaining my PhD in sociology, I felt more interested in seeing the application of those theories and the actual working of societal dynamics. I started my development career working on women empowerment through governance, livelihood and food security issues. Subsequently, I joined UNICEF and my career focus changed to water and sanitation issues.
At ONE DROP, the foundation for Cirque du Soleil, I worked on an innovative pilot project using the social arts as a medium to mobilize communities for adopting WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) strategies and access to safe drinking water through purification technologies.
This project was of particular interest to me because it gives an in-depth understanding of the broader canvas of development and sustainability, which is so relevant in current times.—Interview by Amanda Short
Learn more about Our Human Development Initiative
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California is waking up to the value of the Commons. State lawmakers have acknowledged the need for the responsible management of its natural capital.
This major cultural shift occurred last week when Governor Jerry Brown signed three bills stipulating that the state will manage groundwater if local water agencies and irrigation districts don’t. The move officially put an end to the gold-digger mentality that had prevailed until now, allowing large landowners to deplete a vital natural resource at the expense of their neighbors. It took three years of exceptional drought for this awakening to take place.
The Golden State stipulated a long time ago that anything that belongs to your land, above or below, belongs to you. And so it is that anyone with a well on his or her property could pump groundwater unfettered.
Northern California’s Folsom Lake on January 16, 2014. The reservoir, 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, has shrunk from 97 percent capacity in 2011, to 17 percent capacity in this past January, according to a news release from the California Department of Water Resources.
Groundwater is the reason California’s agriculture is still standing strong despite the drought. As surface water supplies have been dwindling, aquifers have come to provide over more than 60 percent of freshwater needs for irrigation. As groundwater became the new gold, landowners raced to the riches, drilling wells without being encumbered by any form of regulation.
Well drilling and groundwater pumping have been so intense, in fact, that the ground has been sinking in some places. Seismic experts have even warned of the risk of earthquakes as depleted aquifers cause a shift in the weight balance of geological layers, adding pressure to active faults.
In summary, it became an inescapable fact that responsible management of dwindling natural resources like fresh water requires public oversight through monitoring programs and a solid implementation of regulations.
The signing of California’s groundwater management law implicitly acknowledges that the ecological stress caused by the drought may not be a short-lived anomaly. We are encouraged that the authors of the bills and the governor recognized the need to adapt the state’s infrastructure to an increasingly resource-constrained era.
Last year, Global Footprint Network published the very first study of California’s Ecological Footprint. We were surprised to find out that the state’s population demands more than five times more natural resources and services each year than its own ecosystem can renew in that same amount of time. In fact, California’s per-person biocapacity is much lower than that of the United States. This is due mostly to California’s relatively high population density, but also to the aridity of much of the state.
On a global scale, humanity’s demand for renewable ecological resources and the goods and services they provide is now equivalent to 1.5 Earths.
In a world of growing ecological overshoot, access to sufficient natural capital is key to long-term, sustainable success. It is in the overwhelming self-interest of any country, state, city and investor to address resource constraints proactively. California is no exception.
Charged up by activists mobilizing for the UN Climate Summit in New York next week, we delved into our carbon Footprint data to see if we could shed light on the very intractable debates swirling around nations’ responsibilities for reducing emissions. In the first graph below, our intrepid research analyst David Zimmerman found while EU countries toot their horns about declining emissions (as represented by the blue line below), the picture is not so simple.
Here’s what David discovered after creating an index starting at 1993: EU emissions are actually increasing (except for a 2009 recession dip) when you account for all emissions resulting from consumption by EU residents (as shown in the red line). The measurement includes goods produced outside the EU but ultimately consumed inside its borders, and excludes goods produced within the EU that are consumed outside its borders.
In a second graphic, David compared carbon emissions within a nation’s borders (domestic carbon emissions) to carbon emissions embodied in national consumption, which includes carbon associated with the production of goods outside the nation that were ultimately consumed inside the nation’s borders.
Not surprisingly, domestic emissions in countries like the US, the UK, and Switzerland were actually lower than the overall carbon emissions globally associated with the products their citizens consume –because they have large Ecological Footprints and consume many goods produced beyond their borders.
As these graphics show, pointing fingers is no simple matter. Rather, it’s in each nation’s self-interest to establish policies to reduce its citizens’ carbon and Ecological Footprints. The alternative is more political, economic, and climate instability and uncertainty.
That’s why Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel is supporting two initiatives related to the UN Climate Summit in New York. Dr. Wackernagel is a founding signatory to a letter asking world leaders to take urgent action on climate change to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade. You, too, can add your voice here: unsdsn.org/climate-letter.
Dr. Wackernagel also has joined a coalition of countries, companies, NGOs and indigenous peoples organizations in endorsing the New York Declaration of Forests, which calls for halving the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and striving to end forest loss by 2030.
Given that Swiss residents consume four times more than Swiss ecosystems can regenerate, what should the nation do to stay competitive?
That was the question that Global Footprint Network and partner BAKBASEL was charged with addressing in a new report launching Sept. 16.
The objective of the study, commissioned by Switzerland’s Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE) and four other ministries, was to establish the impact on Swiss competitiveness of current resource trends.
The report's findings will be unveiled Sept. 16 in Bern to spark debate at the fifth public town hall event of Dialog Nachhaltige Entwicklung Schweiz ("Dialogue on Sustainable Development in Switzerland"), a program sponsored by ARE.
Global Footprint Network and BAKBASEL recognize in the report that current economic impacts of ecological constraints may still be limited for the Swiss economy. Still, the economic risks from growing ecological constraints are becoming increasingly significant. The longer-term implications – in its most condensed form — can be summarized as follows:
In the competition for limited ecological assets, what really matters are trends in relative GDP. To win the “resource game” in a world of shrinking natural resource availability and increasing demand, one’s relative income has to rise.
As is happening for most high-income countries vis-à-vis the emerging economies, Switzerland's relative income has been receding compared to the world – the Swiss resident is now taking home a 35 percent smaller share of the global income than 20 years ago, or less than 50 percent of the share 35 years ago.
At the same time, most countries are increasing their demand on the rest of the world, fueling the competition for resources and ecological services. With more than 85 percent of the world population already living in countries with biocapacity deficits, this trend can no longer be ignored.
The report identifies five possible ways to reduce the competitiveness risks from biocapacity deficits:
1. “Retreat from the world,” and reduce global integration as much as possible (even if it reduces standards of living) to avoid the exposure to negative impacts from cut-throat competition over resources.
2. “Embrace hyper-growth,” and accelerate economic output in order to keep up with or even outcompete the relative gains of emerging economies.
3. “Hedge your bets,” keep maximizing the global integration benefits through a strong Swiss brand as long as it lasts, and set up a sovereign fund to reengineer the economy when it becomes necessary.
4. “Reengineer extreme resource-efficiency right now,” employ the most efficient technologies to make Switzerland far less dependent on foreign resources – without reducing labor productivity. A variance of this strategy may be to also invest heavily in the resource efficiency of value chains leading into Switzerland.
5. “Forge privileged resource relationships.” One way of securing Switzerland’s supply may be to develop long-term bilateral resource contracts with biocapacity-rich nations. Enabling this would require significant additional intervention by the government (since until now most resources are traded privately and not via government-sponsored channels).
Of course, each scenario comes with its long suite of challenges and risks. In fact, none can easily be embraced as the obvious fix. What about a sixth option, yet to be envisaged? Or could this sixth option be an optimal blend of the five ones listed above?
At any rate, any attempt at an answer must first determine what level of biocapacity deficit would be strategic for Switzerland in order to bring forth an affordable pathway to a resilient, resource secure and prosperous future.
ARE commissioned the study in collaboration with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO), Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
The invitation to the national dialogue available here (in German) summarizes the event.
Dr. Jennie Moore,
Director, Sustainable Development and Environment Stewardship
British Columbia Institute of Technology
School of Construction and the Environment
In 2006, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) became the first post-secondary educational institution to join Global Footprint Network’s partner network, which now numbers 76 institutions applying the Ecological Footprint methodology around the world. Dr. Jennie Moore, director of sustainable development and environmental stewardship at BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment, has led the charge, applying Footprint science to make real policy changes for the Vancouver city government.
To become the “greenest city in the world,” the city of Vancouver is currently implementing its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which includes ambitious lighter Footprint targets. The city hopes to reduce its ecological footprint by 33 percent below 2006 levels by 2020, and achieve one-planet living by 2050. Moore and Bill Rees, co-founder of the Ecological Footprint, have been working closely with the city to explore what it would take to achieve this goal.
Vancouver already has the lowest carbon Footprint of any city in North America. However, Dr. Moore suggests that there is still a long way to go. “The reality is that here and in North America generally, we rank among some of the highest-level consumers in the world. For example, if everyone on the planet lived the way an average Vancouverite does, we would have observed Earth Overshoot Day on May 2nd instead of August 19th,” she notes.
The city has applied Dr. Moore’s PhD research to advise policy direction. Using a newly improved urban metabolism methodology of residential consumption, Moore and colleagues have developed a “bottom up” ecological Footprint approach that enables cities to apply their own local data for sustainability policy work. This methodology is also being incorporated in the newly developed International Ecocity Framework and Standards (www.ecocitystandards.org).
Food is the largest contributor, making up nearly half of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint. Moore et al.’s research found that consuming less red meat would have one of the largest impacts, as red meat consumption accounts for half the food footprint. Any significant reduction to the food Footprint must come at the citizen level, so the city government has focused instead on reducing food waste at different stages of the consumption chain.
Transportation was the second largest portion of Vancouver’s Footprint, with personal motor vehicle use counting for 55 percent of the transportation Footprint. To meet its one-planet living target, the city is pushing an effort to increase the mode-share of walking, cycling and transit to comprise 66 percent of the total resident transportation profile. This is a step towards the 86 percent that would be needed to get to one-planet living.
BCIT is also practicing what it preaches back on campus. The School of Construction and Environment has set a goal to reduce its institutional Footprint by 75 percent from its 2008 Footprint assessment. Click here for more on Ecological Footprint efforts at BCIT.
Japan Footprint Exposes Risks to Food Security
Global Footprint Network presentation in Tokyo focuses on ASEAN reliance
The ASEAN region is one of the fastest growing areas in the world, with a population of approximately 600 million people and a combined GDP that would make it the planet’s eighth largest economy. Despite these gains, the region faces myriad challenges: Large numbers of the population remain in poverty, while its member states are among the most vulnerable to climate change, deforestation, depletion of fisheries and other ecological pressures. These resource constraints pose threats to the region’s energy and food supplies.
But what does this mean for Japan?
That question was the focus of a recent presentation in Tokyo given by Global Footprint Network Research Economist Katsunori Iha, and Asia Regional Director Pati Poblete hosted by the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund.
According to a recent study by Global Footprint Network, Japan is growing increasingly dependent on resources from the ASEAN region. Most notably: Thailand is a major contributor to exports to Japan in the cropland Footprint as well as the fishing grounds Footprint, suggesting a large dependence of Japan on Thailand for its fish products and agricultural crops. In the case of forest land Footprint, Indonesia is the highest contributor, suggesting Japan’s dependence on the country for timber and forest products.
Four countries make up 80 percent of the ASEAN food Footprint exports to Japan: Thailand , Indonesia, and Vietnam and the Philippines.
With growing ecological pressures in the ASEAN region, Japan faces its own risks to food security and economic stability as it continues to depend on the region for essential commodities. Understanding these risks and identifying opportunities to work with the region to manage its resources is the ultimate goal of the study, which was funded by KNCF.
The presentation was attended by representatives of numerous government agencies, including the Ministry of the Environmental, and by members of the private sector, including Toyota Foundation.
Contribution of Japan’s imported Ecological Footprint by ASEAN countries
Here are just a few additional facts about Japan’s Footprint, taken from Global Footprint Network’s Japan Ecological Footprint Report 2012:
- Nearly 20 percent of Japan’s Ecological Footprint is associated with the consumption of food.
- Japan produces only about 24 percent of the biocapacity required for its food consumption.
- On average, the shipping distance of food imported into Japan is about 4,500 miles, approximately the direct distance between Tokyo and Moscow.
- Since Japan imports over 50 million tonnes of food per year carbon dioxide emissions just from the maritime shipping of food (ignoring the transport of food to and from sea ports) into Japan corresponds to an Ecological Footprint of about 800,000 global hectares.
Media outlets around the world helped share the news of Earth Overshoot Day this year, and thanks to countless partners and supporters, a conversation about our planet’s ecological deficit also took off on social media.
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual observance meant to bring attention to the risks of humanity’s growing ecological deficit. This year, August 19 marked the date when humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the entire year.
Highlights of Earth Overshoot Day 2014 media coverage included articles in Le Monde in France, El Mundo in Spain, and the Brasil Post in Brazil. Earth Overshoot Day also made the front page of La Stampa in Italy for the second year in a row. An online article in The Guardian in the UK generated 92 comments. In Switzerland, a Q&A with Bruno Oberle, director of the Swiss Ministry of Environment, was featured on the ministry’s website.
Les Echos in France published an article about Earth Overshoot Day as well as a lengthy Q&A with Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. Thomson Reuters ran an op-ed by CEO Susan Burns on the link between resource restraints and national economics. Reuters TV also produced a segment about Earth Overshoot Day featuring our partner, Wendy Arenas, founder and executive director of ALISOS - Alianzas para la Sostenibilidad, in Columbia, which made Thomson Reuters’ list of top 100 stories for the day.
In Asia, Beijing News ran a feature on Earth Overshoot Day in its Sunday Earth Supplement. In Japan, Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the five national newspapers there, featured a short article, and Naoki Adachi, a leading voice in the corporate social responsibility field, wrote a blog post on Earth Overshoot Day.
A TV news station in France took a lighter approach to the Earth Overshoot Day news, with clips of a small inflatable globe rolling through the streets.
A coalition of German activists in Berlin led by INKOTA used an even larger inflatable Earth to draw attention to Earth Overshoot Day at a gathering in Alexanderplatz. Participants in the event symbolically sucked the resources from the Earth until it collapsed onto the ground as part of their call for a more sustainable use of resources to enable a good life for future generations.
We also received entertaining pictures from Berlin of a Segway race from an Earth Overshoot Day-inspired event organized by British performance Ellie Harrison. After “speeding” around a track, the racers headed into town to spread the word about global resource constraints. Why Segways? As Harrison explained, “These popular, but profoundly annoying, machines symbolise the stupidity of our species gratuitously wasting money and resources, whilst simultaneously preventing access to the gentle exercise that all bodies need to stay healthy.”
In China, students participated in an Earth Overshoot Day activity that involved answering questions and performing tasks to reduce the planet’s Ecological Footprint. Our partners WWF-China helped coordinate that event in addition to getting the word out about Earth Overshoot Day throughout the country.
From Berlin, we received entertaining pictures of a Segway race from an Earth Overshoot Day-inspired event organized by British performance Ellie Harrison. After “speeding” around a track, the racers headed into town to spread the word about global resource constraints. Why Segways? As Harrison explained, “These popular, but profoundly annoying, machines symbolise the stupidity of our species gratuitously wasting money and resources, whilst simultaneously preventing access to the gentle exercise that all bodies need to stay healthy.”
In the social media world, we were thrilled to see our first Facebook post announcing Earth Overshoot Day shared by more than 500 supporters. Our first Tweet on Earth Overshoot Day garnered nearly 42,000 impressions, according to Twitter.
Thank you for helping us raise awareness about Earth Overshoot Day and move a step closer toward ensuring our entire society lives well within the means of nature.
Click here for a list of media coverage of Earth Overshoot Day 2014.
Did you know the Chinese province of Guizhou in southwest China bears some striking resemblance to Switzerland? I confess I didn't, until I was invited to Guizhou last month to speak at Eco-Forum Global. Since 2009, this annual conference gathers participants from around the world to share knowledge about policies regarding green economic transformation and ecological security. This year I spoke on a finance panel led by the chief economist of Bank of China, Ma Jun, and a panel organized by the Sino-Swiss Dialogue.
Just like Switzerland, Guizhou is landlocked and boasts a mountainous landscape. It is one of two provinces in China that President Xi Jinping declared to be testing grounds for China’s new focus on "eco-civilization" and the "China dream."
Hoping to learn more from Switzerland to build that dream, Chinese officials announced the Guizhou-Switzerland Agreement on Establishing Mountainous Economy and Eco-Civilization at Eco-Forum Global this year. With its rich landscape, including spectacular lakes and waterfalls, Guizhou is believed to be an ideal location to apply the innovative cleantech, eco-tourism and sustainable development strategies that have enabled Switzerland to preserve its stunning natural environment.
The Guizhou-Switzerland agreement builds on a larger bilateral free trade agreement between China and Switzerland that was signed last year and just took effect in July.
My Sino-Swiss Dialogue keynote talk at Eco-Forum Global delved into the similarities between China and Switzerland, where Global Footprint has worked with four ministries to analyze the country’s resource dependence and make Footprint and biocapacity part of the Swiss statistical information data published annually.
Like many countries, both China and Switzerland are ecological debtor countries using more biocapacity than their own ecosystems can provide. They make up the difference through trade with trading partners who are also in ecological deficit.
Switzerland's Ecological Footprint is four times larger than what ecosystems within Switzerland can renew. Its biocapacity deficit per person hasn’t changed over the last half century, and its financial resources have allowed it to easily access resources from abroad. However, because the world as a whole is becoming more constrained, Switzerland's biocapacity deficit will become economically more significant in the future.Switzerland: Stable Biocapacity Deficit
China's Ecological Footprint is two times larger than its ecosystems can renew. Its biocapacity deficit has grown substantially amid the country's rapid development of the past decade.China: Rapid Footprint Growth
On the bright side, however, both Switzerland and China have worked to preserve their natural resources, particularly forests. In Switzerland, forests were under severe pressure of overexploitation at the onset of industrialization in the middle of the 19th century. Soil erosion and avalanches prompted reform in forestry management and Swiss forests now cover 30 percent of the country's territory. China's forests were also under pressure until the Natural Forest Protection Project was launched in 1998. By the end of 2003, the Chinese government had injected about 50 billion Yuan (about 6 billion USD) into the program, putting some 95 million hectares of natural forest in conservation nationwide. The government has recently committed an additional 220 billion Yuan (36 billion USD) to the project and aims to add an additional 7,800 hectares of forest area.
China has been acutely aware of resource constraints for decades, as has Switzerland. Many Swiss still remember World War II when the country only had enough domestic food to feed its population (then half the current size) for seven months per year. This sense of resource fragility has been an important factor spurring Switzerland’s focus on energy, material and water efficiency, high-performance buildings, effective public transportation, land protection, urban containment and forest conservation.
However, the global context within which China is developing today is markedly different to that of Switzerland in the past century. Since World War II, the entire planet has gone into ecological overshoot, with humanity now using one and a half times more from nature every year than the planet can renew in the same timeframe. Today we are living in a far more resource-constrained era, making it more important than ever for all countries to track and manage their natural assets.
With China’s Ecological Footprint continuing to grow, Guizhou Province is clearly a region at a crossroads. On the cusp of rapid development, it has enormous opportunities to seize the moment and build new economic momentum. The question is whether it will set policies that enable it to thrive while at the same time avoiding the pollution and congestion that has plagued other regions in China. Gleaning valuable lessons from Switzerland is certainly one important step. Of course, we also believe Guizhou Province will need data-driven decision-making tools like the Ecological Footprint to succeed as well.
May and June this year were the hottest ever since record-keeping began in 1880, according to a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. 2014 could go down as the warmest year yet, exceeding the previous records set in 2003 and 2013.
There’s no question that the Earth is warming, ancient ice is melting and sea levels are rising. Friends of Global Footprint Network are well aware of many of the risks that anthropogenic climate change poses, particularly to the world’s poorest regions.
A risk that remains under-appreciated, however, is the impact that water availability will have on energy, and that constrained energy supply will have on water.
After food production, electricity generation is the second-largest consumer of water globally. Thermal power plants – those powered by coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear – consume vast amounts of water in their cooling cycles. A single nuclear reactor can consume over 15 million gallons of water per day. Power generation accounts for 41 percent of freshwater withdrawals and about three percent of freshwater consumption (3.3 billion gallons of water per day) in the United States.
Warmer temperatures have been taking a toll on these thirsty facilities. Every summer, a lack of water (or of water that is sufficiently cold) forces power plants to shut down. Inadequate and irregular rainfall has also forced hydropower facilities to shut down, such as the Shivanasamudra plant in southern India this month.
Just as producing power requires water, producing water requires power. In California, one-fifth of the state’s electrical power is used to pump, treat, transport, heat, cool and recycle water. Agriculture consumes 80 percent of the water in the state, which produces one-third of the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruits and nuts consumed in the United States.
This year is on track to be the driest in the history of recorded rainfall in the state, and has already forced cattle ranchers to pare down their herds and almond farmers to plow under their trees. Food prices across the nation have crept up due to the drought.
California is emblematic of the predicament that the world now faces. A growing population puts water, food, and energy supplies under even more pressure even as they are increasingly strained by climate change. But the most accessible solutions often lead to destructive feedback loops. For example, California’s current plan to replace the 2.2 gigawatts of power generation from the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station, which was shut down in 2012, is likely to rely substantially on new power generation from natural gas, which will pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere and increase the probability of future droughts.
As we anticipate the announcement of Earth Overshoot Day this year, which will arrive earlier than ever, it’s worth contemplating how we can find a way out of our predicament, and find real and enduring solutions to the knot of problems in the energy-water nexus. As many have observed, it is really an energy-water-food-economy-security-and-everything nexus, because energy and water are so fundamental to life. Eliminating waste, and using the precious resources we have as efficiently as possible, is the obvious place to start – and that’s a challenge we can all help to answer.
In a first for the Ecological Footprint and a native group in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada supported the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s title over 1,900 square kilometers in British Columbia as part of a landmark decision announced in June.
The historic ruling came about a decade after Tsilhqot’in Nation’s lawyers called Global Footprint Network to provide an expert study for the case, which centered on clear-cut logging permits granted by the British Columbia government without consulting the native community living on the affected land.
The government defended the so-called terra-nullis ("nobody's land") hypothesis—the assumption that pre-European Canada was a vast and empty land—and argued that the First Nation's title claimed was "too large."
The challenge that the Tsilhqot'in Nation posed to Global Footprint Network: provide a scientifically sound evaluation of the capacity of the land to support the native group around 1800, prior to European influence and trade.
Global Footprint Network researchers approached the problem from several angles. One was to study the Ecological Footprint of the current population of bears living on the territory. The theory was that the findings about these omnivorous animals that compete for the same food niche as humans could be used to extrapolate the Ecological Footprint of a human group living off the same land.
A second angle involved studying the current local population of wild horses as a proxy for the hooved animals that would make up the main source of animal proteins for the people. And a third approach used anthropological accounts to study the general food habits of the aboriginal population to evaluate how much food they would gather, how much they would store, and what the impact of living on the edge was.
Global Footprint Network’s research findings converged to the conclusion that the claimed area had the capacity to support between 100 and 1,000 people – in other words, that this entire area was needed to meet the needs of the smallish nation – given their traditional hunter gatherer lifestyle. Their Footprint was both wide and light, meaning that it required a wide area given the small volume of natural resources harvested per hectare. Such a Footprint benefits biodiversity, ensuring that the natural capital can regenerate and thrive.
Global Footprint Network was able to show that, at best, terra nullis was an erroneous concept sustained over centuries, ignoring the physical reality of the resource flows supporting populations.
For the very first time, the legal pundits acknowledged this physical reality. "My argument was accepted by consensus by both sides of the case. In fact, I didn't even have to appear in court to testify since there was no need for cross-examination," said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network and lead author of the research report.
After arguing the case in the Supreme Court in November, Jack Woodward, the lead lawyer representing the Tsilhqot’in Nations, wrote Wackernagel, "We simply stated that because of the climate and geography of the area, only a limited number of people could sustainably live in the area, citing the expert opinion report you prepared for us many years ago."
The historical ruling that followed on June 26 gives the Tsilhqot’in Nation "the right to use and control the land and to reap the benefits flowing from it."