Footprint Network Blog 2012

Hundreds Gather in Beirut to Address the Arab Region’s Ecological Footprint

Global Footprint Network - 12/06/2012 07:55 PM

Hundreds of delegates from across the Arab region gathered in the historic Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel in Beirut at the end of November to discuss the Arab region’s Ecological Footprint and strategies to chart a sustainable future.

The Arab Forum for Environment and Development’s (AFED) two-day annual conference drew over 500 delegates from nearly 50 countries, including ministers, diplomats, academics and representatives from the civil and private sector. The study at the heart of this year’s conference, “Survival Options: Ecological Footprint of Arab Countries,” was released in partnership with Global Footprint Network, and is the most comprehensive survey of the condition of the Arab region’s natural environment to date. It includes the Arab Atlas of Footprint and Biocapacity, with profiles for 22 Arab nations and six sub-regions.

Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman opened the conference, saying “Facts and figures in AFED’s report are alarming. The report should be nationally disseminated and used by all Arab countries. Its results and recommendations should be discussed by all sectors to integrate them in strategies.”

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The Financial Risks of Ecological Limits

Global Footprint Network - 11/19/2012 12:40 AM

Some of the economic implications of resource constraints were introduced to the world of international finance this week in London, when Global Footprint Network and the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), in collaboration with leading financial institutions, launched the E-RISC (Environmental Risk Integration in Sovereign Credit) report at Bloomberg, a leader in global financial data.

The interactive event drew over 150 participants, including representatives from leading financial institutions, investors, asset management firms and rating agencies, including Caisse des Depots, SNS Asset Management, Standard & Poor’s, J.P. Morgan, KfW Bankengruppe, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Barclays.

To date, tightening resource constraints and their impacts on national economies have been largely absent from financial analyses. The E-RISC report fills this gap by exploring to what extent resource and ecological risks can impact a nation’s economy and how these factors affect a nation’s ability to pay its debts.

E-RISC Press Conference at Bloomberg, with Ivo Mulder (UNEP FI), Susan Burns (Global Footprint Network), and Nick Nuttall (UNEP)
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Ecological Footprint Work Receives International Recognition with Prestigious Blue Planet Prize

Global Footprint Network - 11/15/2012 04:48 PM

Japan’s Prince Akishino and the Asahi Glass Foundation yesterday presented the Blue Planet Prize,  one of the world’s premier environmental awards, to Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William E. Rees, co-creators of the Ecological Footprint, and Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, who was recognized for his work in advancing our understanding of biodiversity.

Two Blue Planet Prizes are awarded annually by the Asahi Glass Foundation to individuals or organizations that make outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application in helping to solve global environmental problems. The prize is considered one of the most prestigious in the field of conservation.

Building on Rees’ earlier work on human carrying capacity, Drs. Wackernagel and Rees in the early 1990s developed the Ecological Footprint, the world’s premier resource accounting system, to track humanity’s demands on nature. Dr. Lovejoy was the first to clarify that human-caused habitat fragmentation damaged biodiversity and gave rise to environmental crises.

The prize was presented Wednesday in the Tokyo Kaikan, across from the Imperial Palace, with the Imperial Highness Prince and Princess Akishino, ambassadors and members of the Asahi Glass Foundation in attendance. The photo shows Drs. Wackernagel and Rees receiving the trophy from Asahi Glass Chairman Tetsuji Tanaka. Dr. Wackernagel has donated his $300,000 share of the prize money to Global Footprint Network to advance the Ecological Footprint work, and has invited supporters to help match the gift.

“I am convinced more than ever that it is possible to turn our economies into stewards of our planet,” Dr. Wackernagel said in his acceptance speech. “We cannot continue forever to take more from the planet than the planet can give.”

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Categories: Ecological Limits

Senior Scientist Alessandro Galli Discusses Ecological Footprint in Athenian Parliament

Global Footprint Network - 10/31/2012 11:33 PM

Senior Scientist Alessandro Galli delivered a talk in the Athenian Parliament last week during a Special Permanent Committee on Environmental Protection. The session theme was titled, “How MPs can contribute to the efficient depollution of the Mediterranean.” Galli was asked to deliver a Framework Setting presentation to introduce discussions on the challenges, successes and lessons learned about cleaner industrial production and the promotion of a green economy through greening of sectors such as tourism and agriculture.

Galli then focused on the Ecological Footprint of the Mediterranean region and outlined some of the key findings from the newly released “Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends” report. His talk starts at about 1:27:50 into the video below. Read Complete Article >

Categories: Ecological Limits

Latest Ecological Footprint methodology paper accepted for publication in Ecological Indicators

Global Footprint Network - 09/18/2012 10:39 PM

Every year, Global Footprint Network continues to improve the methodology for calculating the Ecological Footprint. The most recent Calculation Method paper has been accepted for publication in the journal Ecological Indicators: Integrating Sciences for Monitoring, Assessment and Management.

The paper documents the latest method for estimating the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of nations, using the National Footprint Accounts (NFA) applied to more than 200 countries and for the world overall. Results are also compared with those obtained from previous editions of the NFA. According to the 2011 Edition of the National Footprint Accounts, humanity demanded the resources and services of 1.5 planets in 2008; this human demand was 0.7 planets in 1961.

Each new edition of the National Footprint Accounts supports the conclusion that we are in global ecological overshoot, where total demand for ecological goods and services exceed the available supply and regenerative capacity, while also causing carbon waste accumulation. 


Ecological Footprint in Ecuador, New Collaborations

Global Footprint Network - 09/14/2012 05:13 PM

Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, was in Quito, Ecuador at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism to speak at the Inter-American Tourism Congress XX. The conference was part of the larger Conscious Tourism Congress.

Mathis spoke about the Ecological Footprint and underscored the current trends toward ecological overshoot.

“We have limited resources and unlimited wants. You have to think about tourism within this reality. We do not want to decrease the growth of tourism, but we need to see to what extent it will produce opportunities or harm,” he said.

After the talk on the conference’s inaugural day, Mathis met with the heads of several government agencies, including the Minister of the Environment (Mercy Borbor) and the Minister of Non-Renewable Resources, who expressed interest in working closer with Global Footprint Network. Read Complete Article >


When and What is Earth Overshoot Day? Join the Live Tweet Chat with Global Footprint Network

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Global Footprint Network - 08/08/2012 04:13 PM

We are approaching this year’s Earth Overshoot Day, the approximate date our demand for ecological resources and services exceeds the planet’s ability to provide for the year.

While we are not yet announcing the exact date of Earth Overshoot Day, Global Footprint Network will host a Tweet Chat on Twitter (@EndOvershoot) at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 6:00 pm (all PST) on August 22 to discuss Ecological Overshoot: What it means and how the Ecological Footprint is calculated.

You can indicate your “attendance” on our Facebook Event page.

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Categories: Ecological Limits

World’s First Walkable Ecological Footprint

Global Footprint Network - 08/01/2012 11:14 PM

In addition to enjoying the myriad outdoor activities and striking natural beauty of Austria’s Gesäuse National Park, visitors are now able to immerse themselves in the world’s first walkable Ecological Footprint.

In July, the national park held the grand opening of its newest attraction adjacent to its Willow Dome Nature Center. Styled in the form of a labyrinth, the Ecological Footprint (Der ökologische Fußabdruck) garden invites visitors to discover the Ecological Footprint of their nation and their own lifestyles. Citizens, tourists, and school groups playfully explore the environmental impacts of various consumption habits (such as diet, clothing, shopping and energy use) and learn about more sustainable options.

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Global Footprint Network Supports the Natural Capital Declaration

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Global Footprint Network - 08/01/2012 11:11 PM

Global Footprint Network supports the Natural Capital Declaration, a commitment made by CEOs from the finance sector to integrate natural capital accounting into their financial products and services.

Global Footprint Network is committed to creating a world where everyone can live well within the means of one planet. It is going to take all of us pulling together toward this common goal. We recognize the need to push the frontiers beyond business-as-usual and to explore more integrated approaches to finance.  As financial institutions are an integral part of the economy and society, initiatives like the Natural Capital Declaration are important to help lead the way.

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The Effect of Rising Temperatures on the Energy-Water Nexus

07/25/2012 10:37 PM

May and June this year were 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 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 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.


The Ecological Footprint at Rio+20

07/02/2012 10:27 PM

As people move on from the suspense, excitement, and sometimes disappointment that was Rio+20, at least one thing is clear to us—the Ecological Footprint is more important than ever in a world where international cooperation on sustainable development has not delivered everything the world hoped it would.


Global Footprint Network Science Coordinator Kyle Gracey (far right) at the Eye on Earth Panel

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What happens when an infinite-growth economy runs into a finite planet?

06/28/2012 10:43 PM

Debt boils over. Energy trumps safety. Biodiversity is for sale. And more.

Resource consumption trends put us on an ecological collision course, risking economic and social stability as we bump up against natural limits. Working within nature’s budget builds the foundation for securing our future. Read our 2011 Annual Report to learn more. 

 

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Competitiveness 2.0: A Q&A with Robert Rapier

06/28/2012 06:02 PM

Energy expert Robert Rapier, the Chief Technology Officer at Merica International, writes and speaks about issues involving energy and the environment. Merica , a privately held energy company, is involved in a wide variety of projects, with a core focus on the localized use of biomass to energy for the benefit of local populations.
In this second of a two-part series on Competitiveness 2.0, one of Global Footprint Network’s strategic programs, the Consumer Energy Report columnist and author of “Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil” explains below how energy constraints are becoming so central to a nation’s competitiveness.

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The Future We Want After Rio+20

Global Footprint Network - 06/25/2012 08:35 PM

This is our advice to any national leader: Global collaboration on sustainability would be wonderful. But short of agreements, the risks for each country posed by global resource constraints becomes ever more acute.

In other words, the need for your country to manage your supply of and demand for natural resources becomes more significant in the absence of global agreements and commitments and as global overshoot trends continue unabated. Don’t squander your future by waiting for others to act first. Nations ignore the links between resource constraints and their economies at their own peril.

We wish nations would have approached Rio+20 from that spirit. Recognizing that life for them gets easier with an agreement–that agreements are not about giving something up, but about gaining something for all. Because global agreements would make it safer and easier for everybody. And that is what the Rio+20 Earth Summit was supposed to deliver. Yet Rio+20 officially concluded Friday on a whimper, and the 49-page outcome document, The Future We Want, is being met widely with sharp criticism—even “anger and dismay,” as the Guardian newspaper put it.

With no concrete timetables, commitments, financing, or new ways to monitor sustainable development goals, many civil society groups and delegates have declared it weak and watered down—at best a collaborative document reaffirming sustainable development goals and future negotiations, pointing vaguely in the right direction; at worst a meaningless piece of paper, a waste of time, a “failure of epic proportions.” A Copenhagen 2009 (COP 15) redux, but with more at stake.

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Categories: Ecological Limits

Global Footprint Network Team on the Ground for Rio+20

Global Footprint Network - 06/21/2012 06:16 PM

The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro is the place to be this week for those interested in global cooperation for a sustainable future. The Global Footprint Network team has been participating in Rio+20 events for the past two weeks. In particular, President Mathis Wackernagel, Research Scientist and Science Coordinator Kyle Gracey, and Director of External Affairs Kath Delaney have been engaged on the ground advancing our Ecological Footprint work.

We’ve rounded up a few of the highlights below.

To kick things off, Kyle participated in the Seventh Meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA), providing an update on the Ecological Footprint methodology. He then joined Dr. Richard Mattison of Trucost (UK) and Dr. Ashok Kumar Chapagain of WWF-UK in a panel organized by Michael Becker of WWF-Brazil, to clarify for decision-makers the strengths and weaknesses of the “footprint family” of indicators known as Ecological Footprint, Water Footprint and Carbon Footprint.

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Categories: Ecological Limits

New Report Looks at Africa’s Fast-Growing Ecological Footprint

06/14/2012 11:12 PM

Dear Friends

Global Footprint Network congratulates African Development Bank (AfDB) and WWF for The Africa Ecological Footprint Report: Green Infrastructure for Africa’s Ecological Security. This benchmark study of the health of Africa’s ecosystems and resource trends, which has been covered by Le Monde and other media, reports a decline of nearly 50 percent in Africa’s biodiversity in the last four decades, but also offers recommendations on implementing the green economy concept through improved infrastructure investments.

The joint report, backed by Global Footprint Network data, shows that population growth and changing consumption patterns linked to increasing prosperity are causing Africa’s total Footprint to increase rapidly.

Indeed, Global Footprint Network estimates that the continent’s Ecological Footprint—that is, the population’s demand for the resources and services that Earth provides—is expected to double by 2040. Meanwhile, the ability of Africa’s ecosystems to meet these demands, or “biocapacity,” is unlikely to increase enough to match the growing Footprint.

Global Footprint Network’s data show that if current trends continue, Africa’s resource demand will outstrip domestic availability by 2015. The continent as a whole would then be in ecological overshoot.

Ecological Footprint and biocapacity per capita trend lines, from 1961 to 2008, show an almost continuous decrease in the availability of natural resources(biocapacity) for everybody. In several countries ( Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe, for example) , the size of the Footprint per person is also decreasing, largely because their ability to access resources is limited by the country’s biocapacity and because their financial constraints for importing resources from elsewhere. Without reversing these trends, progress in human development is unlikely to last.

Africa’s overall story masks the rich variety of situations and trends of individual countries. As the national Ecological Footprint of countries such as Uganda and Zimbabwe has been growing, population growth has driven down both per capita Footprint size and availability of domestic biocapacity. In short, many countries’ total consumption of ecological resources and services has been increasing while their citizens are able to use less and less resources.

Many low-income countries lack the economic ability to cope with the growing need to access external resources, especially as prices reach historical peaks. As they burn through their natural capital to meet current demand, they face an increasingly dire future: a growing demand for resources, less biocapacity to meet this demand, and little financial assets to buy resources from abroad.

In contrast, countries with large financial current account surpluses, such as Nigeria and other oil or mineral exporters, have long run biocapacity deficits but have had the means to import resources. Their ability to use fossil fuel also allows them to use the global atmosphere as a waste sink for the corresponding CO2. But even without considering carbon emissions,  this dependency on resources from elsewhere, and the need to sell off one’s non-renewable resource stocks, puts these countries’ economies at risk if revenues are not used to secure a sustainable future.

   

Global Footprint Network’s data show that access to, and sustainable management of, resources is becoming increasingly critical to a country’s economic performance and a key to its future competitiveness. Economic growth in past decades has often been accompanied by increasing resource consumption to levels that are no longer sustainable. Indeed, to maintain their consumption levels, many countries are increasing imports, overusing biological stocks or increasing their dependence on the global commons.

Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for African nations to improve their quality of life, and to do that in lasting ways. Too easily, development that is dependent on resources that are not available gives only short-lived solutions. Global Footprint Network’s research in Africa with WWF, UNESCO and other international organizations leaves us confident that there’s still time to reverse these destructive trends, so long as nations have the will and the tools to track their progress.

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Taking the Ecological Footprint to the Masses

06/12/2012 11:57 PM

An interactive Ecological Footprint exhibit opened last week in Frankfurt’s central train station as part of an effort to educate young people about sustainability and resource trends in advance of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

The exhibition, called “Your Footprint is the future - TAKE CARE,” was organized by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), a Global Footprint Network partner.

“We went back to the tried and tested Footprint because of its clarity and positive nature,” said Rolf Mack, of GIZ. “The Ecological Footprint is the leitmotif of the exhibition.”

The central question the Ecological Footprint tries to answer is: How much productive land and sea area is required to provide the ecological resources and services consumed by a particular population? To help make the Footprint pertinent to individuals, the exhibit includes a computer terminal for individuals to calculate their own personal Footprint.

“It’s also about encouraging people to adopt other mental and behavioral changes towards a ‘sustainable lifestyle,’ GIZ said in announcing the exhibit. “As consumers, we have influence. As consumers, we manage demand. Through conscious and deliberate use of sustainably produced goods, we can contribute to improved living conditions for people and natural world, not only here in Germany, but worldwide.”

Several events and activities were scheduled during the 2-week display, including short educational films, a hands-on activity addressing food waste, and the opportunity for young people to write messages to be delivered to Rio+20 Summit. The exhibit will be open until June 14.


Dr. Wackernagel Wins Prestigious Kenneth E. Boulding Award

06/05/2012 02:29 AM

Dear Supporters,

Global Footprint Network is thrilled to announce that Co-Founder and President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William Rees, co-creators of the Ecological Footprint, have been named the winners of the 2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Award, the world’s top honor in the field of ecological economics.

The International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE), made the announcement leading up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), in Rio de Janeiro, where the awards will be presented.

The biennial award is given to “outstanding individuals who have contributed original and seminal approaches that have furthered our understanding of the interfaces between the social, ecological, ethical, economic and political dimensions of our world,” said the ISEE in announcing the award.

Building on Rees’ earlier work on human carrying capacity, Wackernagel and Rees in the early 1990s developed the Ecological Footprint, the world’s premier resource accounting system, to track humanity’s demands on nature. The Ecological Footprint measures the area of productive land and water, or “biocapacity,” required to produce the resources a human population consumes and to absorb its carbon waste.

For the last 10 years, Global Footprint Network has contributed to WWF’s bi-annual flagship publication “The Living Planet Report,” which has become a key publication for Ecological Footprint results. The 2012 edition was released in May from the International Space Station, generating the largest media response of any Living Planet Report so far. The latest Global Footprint Network calculations show that humanity’s demand for bio-resources exceeds the long-term regenerative capacity of Earth by over 50 percent.

“Ever more countries continue to use more resources than they can renew within their own boundaries,” Drs. Wackernagel and Rees said. “Until countries begin tracking and managing their biocapacity deficits, they put not only themselves at risk but, more importantly, the entire planet.”

The award will be presented at the ISEE Conference 2012 in Rio de Janeiro on June 19, where Wackernagel and Rees will deliver the keynote Boulding Award lectures.

Dr. Wackernagel has promoted sustainability on six continents and lectured at more than 100 universities. Dr. Rees is an ecologist, ecological economist, Founding Director of the One Earth Initiative, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.

Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993) was President of the American Economics Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Past notable recipients include Herman Daly (American economist, considered the father of Ecological Economics) and Manfred Max-Neef, author of Real-Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation.

We thank you, our valued partners and supporters, for helping to promote our work around the world, and making awards such as these possible as we continue to make ecological limits central to decision-making.


New iPad App Teaches Children about Sustainability with Interactive Stories

05/31/2012 08:08 PM

Given humanity’s increasing demands on Earth’s resources, it’s never too early to start teaching the next generation lessons about sustainability and our Ecological Footprint.

One of most effective ways to learn is through story. A brother and sister team, Cecilia and Gyula Simonyi, have created Children of the Elements, a series of illustrated interactive stories for the iPad. They envision the app as a tool for parents to tackle the complex subject with their children. Cecilia and Gyula have worked with their father, who is the founder and President of the BOCS Foundation in Hungary, a Global Footprint Network partner organization.

Children of the Element is an educational app, hand-painted on 40 screens and presented in English and Hungarian. The app provokes thinking systematically about sustainability by exploring food, transportation, energy, technology, consumption, population and related issues, and weaving them into stories that show their interconnectedness.

Cecilia and Gyula have launched a campaign on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise funds to fully develop the series and reach a wider audience. While aimed for children ages 8 years and older, the stories are no doubt entertaining and edifying for adults as well. It follows four young children as they explore their world, giving readers an opportunity to make decisions for each character. Each episode addresses a different sustainability topic. Funds raised through the Kickstarter campaign will be used for a programmer, music, and special-effects.

“Our goal is to introduce the true face of sustainability, the complexity, the far-reaching impacts and reactions, and offer this in a format understandable and enjoyable by children,” says Gyula, the project manager. “With this series we hope to trigger real understanding, rather than oversimplifying (with) messages like ‘don’t litter.’ Our goal is to stimulate questions, generate discussion and inspire change in choices our readers make.

“Being a mother, I feel the most important knowledge I can give my child is how to live in harmony with our planet,” says Cecilia, author and illustrator of the stories, and mother of a 4-year-old. “Children growing up today are going to face all the challenges our generation have left behind for them to solve.”

Kickstarter allows backers to pledge various amounts to support the creative projects of their choice. If the project reaches its pledge goal by the end of the funding period, the pledges are collected and sent to the project team.  However, if the full amount is not raised by the deadline, no money changes hands.  On Kickstarter, backers are not only donating money to a project that inspires them, but their pledge is honored with special gifts the project creator offers.

To watch the campaign video and help make the full Children of the Elements series happen, visit their Kickstarter page.  And stay up to date by visiting their Facebook page and Cecilia’s blog, which has new illustrations.

Editors update (July 3, 2012): The Kickstarter campaign is over, but the project is not. Follow the progress on the Children of the Elements blog.


Astronaut Launches Living Planet Report 2012

05/15/2012 08:16 AM

Humanity is now using nature’s services 52 percent faster than what Earth can renew, according to Global Footprint Network’s latest data, published in the 2012 edition of the Living Planet Report. The biennial report, produced by WWF in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London, was launched today by ESA astronaut André Kuipers from the International Space Station.


Released just weeks before world leaders come together in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the report shows rising competition among countries for resources and land use.

“We’ve entered the era of the global auction,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel, Ph.D., “where nations are now forced to compete fiercely for more expensive and less abundant resources. It’s in their own self-interest to preserve and restore the natural assets they have within their borders and avoid ecological deficit spending. In a resource constrained world, such spending will become an ever more challenging economic burden.”

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Figure 1: Pathways into the future. How long can ecological overshoot be sustained? What are the cost and benefit of each path? Using more than Earth can renew is only possible temporarily – while there are sufficient assets to be liquidated and waste sinks to be filled up. Eventually, overshoot will be eliminated – the question is whether it is eliminated by design or by disaster.

The new figures released for humanity’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity (Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources) show that now, more than ever, countries must manage natural capital as part of their strategy to secure ecological, economic and social success. This holds also true when deploying development strategies that aim at producing lasting progress, for instance for efforts to eliminate hunger and alleviate poverty.

As population and consumption increases, the pressure on the planet continues to grow. Global Footprint Network calculations show that in the past five decades, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has more than doubled. In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, humanity used the equivalent of slightly more than 1.5 planets to support its activities. In other words, nearly 40 years after Earth went into ecological overshoot, it now takes more than a year and six months for Earth to absorb the CO2 emissions and regenerate the renewable resources that people use in one year.

While humanity’s cropland and fishing Footprints have increased, carbon continues to be the largest driver behind humanity’s ecological overshoot. Carbon now accounts for more than half the global Ecological Footprint, at 54 percent. Land used for food production is another major factor in humanity’s increasing Footprint.

While carbon is a major challenge, it must not be addressed in isolation. Moving from fossil fuel due to climate concerns to alternative sources will reduce the carbon portion of the Footprint, but may also significantly increase pressure on other ecosystems. The lack of biocapacity to accommodate the carbon Footprint also indicates that there may not be sufficient biomass available to substitute the current level of fossil fuel use, should that become necessary.


Though the numbers are stark, countries can still reverse trends. Using a Global Footprint Network Scenario Calculator, the 2012 edition of the Living Planet Report offers potential outcomes based on different choices related to resource consumption, demographic trends, land use and productivity.

Comparing the Ecological Footprint of Countries

Examining the Ecological Footprint at the per-person level shows that people living in different countries vary greatly in their demand on Earth’s ecosystems. For example, if everyone in the world lived like the average resident of Qatar, which presently has the world’s highest per capita Footprint, we would need the equivalent of 6.5 planets to regenerate our resources and absorb the CO2 emissions. If everyone lived like a resident of the United States, we would need the resources of 4 planets.

A few countries are now on the verge of turning from ecological creditors to ecological debtors, including Indonesia, Senegal and Ecuador.

Countries that maintain high levels of resource dependence are putting their own economies at risk,” Wackernagel said. “These countries will expose themselves dangerously to the global auction. But those countries that are able to work within both their financial and their ecological budget will not only serve the global interest, they will have the most resilient economies in a resource-constrained world. If our goal is to make progress last and secure well-being for all, then we can no longer afford to ignore biocapacity deficits in the new era of resource constraints.”

You can download the latest results here, or check out your country’s trend on our website, as in the case for Switzerland (Click here to see your country’s Ecological Footprint.)

The top 10 countries with the largest Ecological Footprint per person are Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the United States, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and Ireland. Countries on the other end of the spectrum such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh have per capita Footprints that, in many cases, are too small to provide for basic needs. These countries may well need to increase their access to resources if they are to bring large segments of the population out of poverty.

Who has the greatest natural capital?

Analysis of biocapacity also reveals vast differences between countries. More than 60 percent of the world’s biocapacity is found within the borders of just 10 countries: Brazil, China, the United States, Russia, India, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Argentina and Congo. Biocapacity per person, calculated by dividing national biocapacity by a country’s population, is also not equivalent around the world. In 2008, the country with the highest biocapacity per person in this report was Gabon, followed in decreasing order by Bolivia, Mongolia, Canada and Australia. With pressure on ecological resources escalating, access to biocapacity will be increasingly important to countries’ competitiveness and to their ability to provide a good quality of life for their citizens.

“For lasting competitiveness, countries need a break with the past,” said Wackernagel. “The good news is that addressing resource risks can open up economic opportunities and advance social equity. The solutions lay in better understanding the choices before us. For this, governments need the knowledge and tools to manage their ecological assets as well as their resource demand.”

How to Participate

As Global Footprint Network approaches its 10th anniversary, we remain committed to reversing these trends by working with governments and maintaining and improving our National Footprint Accounts, the gold standard for measuring key aspects of a country’s ecological wealth and vulnerabilities. You can be part of this global effort by promoting our work, becoming a partner or giving a donation.

 

 

 



Panel: Bringing Ecological Footprint Data to the Population Debate

02/22/2012 11:57 PM

To many, population growth, poor health care and climate change are all intractable global problems. But as challenging as these issues are to the future of our planet, Ecological Footprint resource accounting provides the data that can help manage and even reverse these worrisome trends.

Thursday evening, February 23, Global Footprint Network and other experts from leading research and environmental organizations will explore these interconnected challenges at a film screening and panel presentation in Berkeley, California, organized by the Institute for Population Studies.

Following a screening of the population and human rights film “Mother: Caring for 7 Billion,” which features Global Footprint Network president Mathis Wackernagel, a panel of Bay Area researchers and scientists will offer realistic solutions to many of the global problems presented in the film.

Global Footprint Network expert and panel member Kyle Gracey will share what Global Footprint Network’s data tells us about how changes in population and consumption affect our Ecological Footprint. Our hard science helps to cool an often heated discussion, while providing world leaders and individuals with the information they need to help their citizens and themselves, however many we are, live better on a planet where so many compete for the same resources.

The panel will also feature Searle Whitney, president of the Institute for Population Studies, and Kate Looby from the Sierra Club. Kristen Steele, U.S. Programs Coordinator for the International Society of Ecology and Culture, a co-sponsor of the event, will serve as the moderator.
The film will start at 7:00 p.m., and the panel convenes for a one-hour discussion at 8:00 p.m. Admission to the event at the Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, is free. But reservations should be made at http://exploring7billion.eventbrite.com

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Global Footprint Network Named One of World’s Best 100 NGOs

The Global Journal, a Geneva-based publication that covers international politics and leadership, named Global Footprint Network as one of the world’s 100 Best NGOs this week. These leading 100 actors represent the changing dynamics and innovative approaches of the non-profit world, Global Journal said in its January/February 2012 issue.

“We are humbled to be in the company of the many innovative organizations named in the top 100 who are seeking to create systemic change, ” said Susan Burns, Global Footprint Network’s Senior Vice President and co-founder. “The world now finds itself at a defining moment where ecological constraints are ever more critical as we seek to secure people’s well-being.”

The Global Journal used a specific set of metrics (impact, transparency, accountability, innovation and efficiency) as a rough guideline to rank the NGOs.

“There is no science in the measuring,” Global Journal said. “How does one – after all – compare the fundamental societal impact of an organization like the Wikimedia Foundation, with the tangible outputs of a well oiled humanitarian machine?”

Global Journal said its Top 100 list was meant to inform, stimulate debate, inspire and show the incredible dedication that is displayed on a daily basis in and out of the spotlight on a daily basis.

“Recognizing the significant role of NGOs as influential agents of change on a global scale, The Global Journal has sought to move beyond outdated clichés and narrow conceptions about what an NGO is and does,” the Journal said as it announced the Top 100 list. “From humanitarian relief to the environment, public health to education, microfinance to intellectual property, NGOs are increasingly at the forefront of developments shaping the lives of millions of people around the world.”

Other ranking organizations included Wikimedia, Partners in Health, PATH, CARE International, Gram Vikas, Oxfam and TED.

 



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