Footprint Network Blog
If I can grow enough potatoes, I won’t starve. But how large an area do I need to plant?
It’s a simple question in a complex and desperate situation. In the movie The Martian, an astronaut on a Mars mission is thought to have been killed in an accident and left on the red planet during an emergency evacuation by the rest of the crew. Mark Watney, the unlucky astronaut played by actor Matt Damon, must figure out how to survive. With four years to go before the next scheduled mission will arrive on Mars, but only enough food to last for one, a key part of survival will be avoiding starvation.
In his video log, Watney surmises, “So, I’ve got to figure out a way to grow three years’ worth of food here—on a planet where nothing grows. Luckily, I am a botanist. Mars will come to fear my botany powers.”
In his quest for food, Watney discovers potatoes that were set aside for Thanksgiving dinner. This is the only food that he can attempt to grow to supplement the remaining food rations. He carefully calculates how much area he needs to grow potatoes and ends up with 126 square meters of Martian cropland.
Since potatoes are renewable resources, Watney calculates that harvesting the larger potatoes and re-planting the smaller ones will provide 400 potato plants, enough calories to keep him going until he can be rescued.
Starting to sound familiar? It sure does to us at Global Footprint Network!
When Watney was calculating the rate at which he needed to consume potatoes, he was measuring his personal Ecological Footprint, or in other words, his demand for ecological resources. When he calculated that he would need 126 square meters to grow 400 potatoes, he was calculating the biologically productive area, or biocapacity, needed to meet this demand.
Spoiler alert: if you don’t want more of the movie revealed, we recommend you stop reading here.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t be a Hollywood blockbuster if there wasn’t another disaster. An explosion due to equipment malfunction breaches the pressurized barrier surrounding Watney’s precious potato plants. The sudden drop of pressure ruins Watney’s water supply, and the subzero temperatures kill any bacteria in the soil, shattering his opportunities to re-grow potatoes. Water, soil quality and temperature are among the critical factors that impact biocapacity, but are not directly measured by Ecological Footprint accounting.
It’s a vivid demonstration of how outside forces beyond an individual or population’s control can affect the water supply and then biocapacity. For Watney it was an explosion. For places like California, it’s a drought ultimately forcing farmers to leave millions of acres of land fallow.
In the movie, we also see how Watney’s Footprint almost exceeds biocapacity: He has to tear apart the mission’s artificial habitat to make enough space for the cropland needed to sustain him. On Earth, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has exceeded the planet’s biocapacity. This is largely because on Earth, the Ecological Footprint goes beyond measuring our demand for food. It adds up all the competing demands on our planet’s surface areas, including demand for land for housing and other infrastructure; demand for timber products provided by forests; and demand for carbon sequestration, also provided by forests.
Even though this dramatic story took place on Mars, the situation feels close to home as we face similar challenges of living within our ecological limits here on Earth.
This is the fourth post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and think, “What am I going to face today? What kind of issue will it be: fish kill, pollution from industry, or destruction from a typhoon?”
As the general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, I am responsible for managing and protecting the environment of one of the most densely populated areas on earth, the home of 25 million people, in the heart of the Philippines. I also serve as the environmental adviser to the president of the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world.
The Philippines’ development path has been heavily unsustainable. Over-extraction and over-consumption of the country’s natural resources have made us more vulnerable to climate change-related calamities. Today the country is an ecological debtor—our nation’s citizens demand more ecological resources and services than our ecosystems can regenerate.
The Laguna Lake Basin that I oversee is home to one-quarter of the country’s people, concentrated on 65,000 hectares of land, including Metropolitan Manila. The lake provides 70 percent of fish consumed in Manila. Its watershed directly supports many industries and half a million informal settlers. Flood zones are expanding because of increased deforestation and sedimentation. Since the 1990s, the depth of the lake has gone from 12 meters deep to less than 3 meters deep today.
But I remain optimistic. Our president, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, an economist who values hard data, was the very first leader in Philippine history to create an environment and climate change cluster in his cabinet. And he fully supported two Ecological Footprint assessments to give us the tools and guidance to start making much-needed changes.
In my position, my mantra is there can be no economy without ecology. I am relentlessly pushing the message that employment, equality and education will not find a satisfactory solution without ecology.
Thank you so much for your continued commitment to Global Footprint Network’s work around the world.
This is the third post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.
Two years ago, I decided against building my dream home after falling in love with the Ecological Footprint. A quest for clearly measuring sustainability led me to this unique, data-based approach to calculate humanity’s impact on the planet, including my family’s.
In my case, clever designs, expensive “green” materials, and cutting-edge energy-efficient technologies were not enough. None of this would enable my wife and family to move from our apartment in Switzerland into the large home we dreamed of…without growing our Ecological Footprint on the planet. This unexpected conclusion inspired me to make more changes in my life.
One of those changes was joining the Board of Directors at Global Footprint Network last year to lend my support as an entrepreneur to a cause I care about deeply.
Beijing, China–Global Footprint Network launched the beta version of a new website, www.zujiwangluo.org, on Nov. 12 to build on and support the growing interest in the Ecological Footprint among partners and practitioners in government and academia throughout China.
The website, a core element of our Footprint initiatives in China, was launched today to support WWF China’s Living Planet Report-China 2015. The report, to which Global Footprint Network contributed, shows that in less than two generations time, China’s per-person demand on nature has more than doubled. This increase in demand went hand in hand with a substantial loss in the abundance of wild species: The average population size of China’s terrestrial vertebrates declined by half from 1970 to 2010.
Global Footprint Network’s new China website aims to serve as a collaboration platform for practitioners in government and academia in China who share the common goal of making Ecological Footprint accounting and related tools as rigorous as possible to fulfill China’s vision of an ecological civilization. The website’s name means “footprint network” in Mandarin.
This is the second post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.
Since I was a child growing up in southern Iran, years of severe drought have threatened the vitality of the rich farmland in my native Fars province, Iran’s traditional bread basket. Today, as a PhD student in agricultural development at Shiraz University in Iran, I am exploring innovative ways to help make agriculture sustainable in Iran, especially in the Fars province.
As part of my commitment to revitalizing agriculture in Fars, I am excited to be over 7,000 miles from home, working with Global Footprint Network researchers as an intern in the organization’s Oakland, California, office.
In my internship, I am learning to measure the sustainability of my region’s agricultural practices by using Ecological Footprint accounting to measure demand and supply of natural resources. I’m also very interested in providing the Ecological Footprint as a practical decision-making tool at the provincial level, and even at a more granular scale like the individual farm.
Earlier this year, Global Footprint Network calculated that Earth Overshoot Day—the day when humanity has spent Earth’s budget for the entire year—landed on August 13. But new data on China’s coal consumption significantly alters our calculation, ultimately moving Earth Overshoot Day to August 9, four days earlier on the calendar.
This week China’s statistical agency quietly published new data indicating China has been consuming up to 17% more coal a year than previously reported.
In 2012 alone, China consumed 600 metric tons more coal than previously indicated, which is equivalent to 70% of annual coal use in the United States, according to a New York Times article. This means China has released nearly one billion more tons of carbon dioxide a year than previous data shows – a massive upward revision.
China’s revised coal numbers result in a 1.6% increase in humanity’s Ecological Footprint, pulling Earth Overshoot Day four days earlier.
All official forecasts and emission policies were based on China’s previous data. Global leaders will have to face these implications in the upcoming climate talks in Paris in December. The numbers suggest it may be more difficult for China to cap its carbon emissions by 2030, as pledged by President Xi Jingping, generating much optimism last year. Or perhaps the news will propel even more nations, cities, businesses and leaders to up the ante with their own climate change mitigation efforts.
This is the first in a series of blog posts titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week.
I had two passions as a kid: nature and technology. After starting as an electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), I realized my path lay elsewhere.
Long before I joined Global Footprint Network as Lead Researcher, my passion for nature led me to Alaska and Russia where, as a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas, I used cutting edge technologies to survey three dozen ecosystems to evaluate how global warming is changing landscapes in the Arctic.
Growing up in Orange County, California, it quickly became apparent to me that an emphasis on material wealth was keeping many of us disconnected from fundamental aspects of our life on Earth, starting with the natural ecosystems we depend on.
This is a series of blog posts titled "Making A Difference" where we highlight a different voice each week.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and think, "What am I going to face today? What kind of issue will it be: fish kill, pollution from industry, or destruction from a typhoon?"
As the general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, I am responsible for managing and protecting the environment one of the most densely populated areas on earth, the home of 25 million people, in the heart of the Philippines. Read Neurus' story.
Two years ago I decided against building my dream home after falling in love with the Ecological Footprint. A question for clearly measuring sustainability led me to this unique data-based approach to calculate humanity's impact on the planet, including my family's. Read Daniel's story.
Since I was a child growing up in southern Iran, years of severe drought have threatened the vitality of the rich farmland in my native Fars province, Iran’s traditional bread basket. Today, as a PhD student in agricultural development at Shiraz University in Iran, I am exploring innovative ways to help make agriculture sustainable in Iran, especially in the Fars province. Read Mahsa's story.
I had two passions as a kid: nature and technology. After starting as an electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), I realized my path lay elsewhere. Read David's story.
Last month, staff in our Oakland, California, office had the unforgettable opportunity to meet with Neric Acosta, the Philippines Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection and General Manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority. One of our Ecological Footprint champions in the Philippines, Secretary Acosta worked extensively with Global Footprint Network on the 2013 report Restoring Balance in Laguna Lake Region.
The challenges in the Laguna Lake Region can’t be overstated. The region is composed of five provinces managed by 66 local governments with 25 million people who depend on the area for resources, energy and agriculture. The region is undoubtedly the epicenter of the country, housing one quarter of the country’s population and Metro Manila contributing 60 percent of the nation’s GDP.
One thing you should know about Secretary Acosta is that he has a booming voice and infectious laughter, enough to captivate any audience. Here are five of our favorite moments from his talk with us:
Recyclápolis Foundation honored Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and president of Global Footprint Network, with its National Sustainability Award “for his outstanding career and contributions to innovation and environment.” The ceremony was held Monday night in the Chilean capital Santiago in the presence of Undersecretary of the Environment Marcelo Mena.
As the evening’s keynote speaker, Wackernagel introduced the latest data on Chile’s natural resource constraints. Chile posted an ecological deficit for the first time ever in 2011, the latest date data is available, as its growing Ecological Footprint exceeded its declining renewable natural resources. Chile’s Ecological Footprint has been steadily growing over the years to reach 3.9 global hectares per person in 2011, according to the most recent data available.