Today, the term “carbon footprint” is often used as shorthand for the amount of carbon (usually in tonnes) being emitted by an activity or organization. The carbon component of the Ecological Footprint takes a slightly differing approach, translating the amount of carbon dioxide into the amount of productive land and sea area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions. This tells us the demand on the planet that results from burning fossil fuels. Measuring it in this way offers a few key advantages.
On a practical level, the Ecological Footprint shows us how carbon emissions compare and interact with other elements of human demand, such as our pressure on food sources, the quantity of living resources required to make the goods we consume, and the amount of land we take out of production when we pave it over to build cities and roads. The carbon Footprint is 60 percent of humanity’s overall Ecological Footprint and its most rapidly growing component. Humanity’s carbon Footprint has increased 11-fold since 1961. Reducing humanity’s carbon Footprint is the most essential step we can take to end overshoot and live within the means of our planet.
The Ecological Footprint framework enables us to address the problem in a comprehensive way, one that does not simply shift the burden from one natural system to another.
The Ecological Footprint and Climate Change
The Footprint framework also shows climate change in a greater context—one which unites all of all the ecological threats we face today.
Climate change, deforestation, overgrazing, fisheries collapse, food insecurity and the rapid extinction of species are all part of a single, over-arching problem: Humanity is simply demanding more from the Earth than in can provide. By focusing on the single issue, we can address all of its symptoms, rather than solving one problem at the cost of another.
At Global Footprint Network, our work is focused on helping nations—and by extension, humanity as a whole—succeed in a world of emerging resource constraints. We do so by giving leaders the data they need to make decisions that are aligned with ecological reality. In this way, we can begin to move away from the emissions and resource-intensive economies of the past and toward those than can thrive within the limits of what nature can provide.