Footprint Network Blog - Ecological Limits

Building with nature in mind: New economic decision tools for climate change and natural disasters

02/04/2016 07:49 AM

If an acre of forest burns up in flames, what’s the cost? Zero, was FEMA’s reply in 2013. The Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected California’s request for a federal “major disaster” declaration and funding after the devastating Rim Fire, because it only knew how to put a price tag on man-made structures. The 400 square miles of forests that had been reduced to ashes and charred stumps—including part of Yosemite National Park—couldn’t translate into dollar amounts.

How times have changed. Two weeks ago, the state of California was named one of the 13 winners of the National Disaster Resilience Competition by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation. California won more than $70 million to help fund several disaster preparedness projects in communities affected by the Rim Fire. 

What happened? As extreme weather events have become more frequent due to climate change, decision-makers are realizing that conventional project assessments won’t do, and that building strong, resilient communities requires drastically innovative approaches. In a first for a federal agency, the HUD Office of Economic Resilience, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, mandated that nature be a key element in the design of development projects submitted to the $1 billion competition.

HUD encouraged all applicants to use a more complete benefit-cost analysis developed by Earth Economics, a close partner of Global Footprint Network. It is exactly the kind of approach that Global Footprint Network and Earth Economics called for in July in our State of the States Report, which found the United States demands twice the resources that its ecosystems can regenerate. It is also similar to the approach that Global Footprint Network piloted with the state of Maryland when developing our Net Present Value Plus tool.

Profound shift

To assert the HUD/Rockefeller competition marks a significant departure from business as usual is an understatement. In fact, HUD has opened the door to a brand new approach where sustainability and resiliency are the guiding principles in deciding which disaster preparedness projects are worth funding.

“We are delighted a federal agency is demonstrating such a strong commitment to incorporating the value of nature into infrastructure and resilience projects,” said Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network. “This is a profound shift that is bound to transform industry standards.”

Eligible applicants to the competition were required to incorporate nature into the economic impact analysis of their disaster resilience projects. All of them received training by Earth Economics on how to assess their costs and benefits more comprehensively, including the value of natural assets. The applicants then were allowed to seek Earth Economics’ assistance with their applications. Indeed, all of the applicants who sought Earth Economics’ assistance—including the state of California—won HUD money, totaling $680 million altogether.

In each case, Earth Economics coached the jurisdiction to understand how natural systems work within its specific region, and to make nature part of the solution recovering from natural disasters.

For the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Storm Resiliency Program, for instance, Earth Economics found New York City’s urban parks and green space affected by Hurricane Sandy provide $3.9 million in ecosystem services ranging from aesthetic and recreational value to water purification and storage value. NYCHA was awarded $176 million.

Decision-makers both inside and outside the United States ought to pay close attention to how this competition was conducted and to the innovative economic analysis that was applied. By using comprehensive methods for measuring the multiple benefits of post-disaster projects, government decision makers can have a far more beneficial, resilient and sustainable impact. This is the only way to avoid repetitive damage and billions in future costs, while building healthy lands and vibrant economies.

For more background on our Net Present Value Plus assessment tool, visit www.footprintentwork.org/npvplus.

Learn more about Earth Economics at www.eartheconomics.org.

Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture flickr 20120817-FS-UNK-0034

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Business, Footprint for Government


Global Footprint Network 2015 Highlights in Photos

12/29/2015 09:30 PM

Happy New Year from Global Footprint Network!

2015 has been a very important year for humanity and the health of our planet.

Building on the momentum of the historic Paris climate agreement, the stage is set to accelerate major shifts to a low-carbon and resource-secure future. While the goals are clear, the gap is still large, especially for the most vulnerable communities.

We look forward to even more progress next year, tracking our natural capital as carefully as we do our finances, and guiding decision-makers to take action in accordance with a resource-constrained planet.

With your generous support, we made substantial strides advancing global sustainability in 2015. Check out the slideshow below for highlights from the year:


Join us in helping all of humanity thrive within the means of our fabulous planet:

Calculate: Measure your own Ecological Footprint with our online calculator, which we plan to update with a mobile version in 2016.

Get social: Get news, photos and videos from Global Footprint Network’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn communities. Invite your friends and family members to learn more about natural resource constraints, one of the most urgent issues of our time.

Make a difference: Our interns, staff and board members are making a difference in such diverse areas as the Arctic, Iran, Switzerland and China. You can amplify our impact by donating to Global Footprint Network.

Thank you again for everything you do to preserve the only planet we have.

Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Business, Footprint for Finance, Footprint for Government


World leaders unanimously agree to end the fossil fuel age within a few decades

Mathis Wackernagel - 12/14/2015 04:30 PM

The climate pact approved in Paris Saturday represents a huge historic step in re-imagining a fossil-free future for our planet.

We consider it nothing short of amazing that 195 countries around the world—including oil-exporting nations—agreed to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and, to the surprise of many, went even further by agreeing to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

These bold moves suggest an end to fossil fuel by 2050. That is within 35 years—well within many of our lifetimes. In 35 years, my 14-year-old son will be my age. Just think, many people still can easily remember what happened 35 years ago: Jimmy Carter was unseated by Ronald Reagan; the summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted by the U.S., Japan, West Germany, China, among other nations; John Lennon was killed; and the Empire Strikes Back debuted on movie screens.

So how ambitious is this vision of our world 35 years from now? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry captured the boldness of it Thursday when he said, “Our aim can be nothing less than a steady transformation of the global economy.”

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


Paris: The Mother of All COPs

Sebastian Winkler, VP of Outreach and Programmes - 12/12/2015 09:59 PM

During my time at the climate talks in Paris, I couldn’t help being struck by how this one truly was the COPs (Conference of Parties) of all COPs. Here are just a few of the many differences I observed at the COP21 compared with the half-dozen past conferences I have attended:

Read our blog post commentary on the Paris climate agreement’s vision for a fossil-free future.

Categories: Ecological Limits


From Paris to the Philippines, climate change is here. Now what?

Laetitia Mailhes, Global Footprint Network - 12/02/2015 10:23 PM

Despite the tragic events in Paris last month, expectations remain high for a global climate agreement in the City of Lights. The focus is on country-specific pledges for reducing emissions and powering up renewable energy in order to remain below the 2-degree-Celsius warming threshold.

Such commitments can’t be confirmed and implemented soon enough. And now more than ever, we need to look the reality of climate change in the face, beyond the seemingly abstract number conversation.

The man-made production of carbon emissions in excess of what the planet can absorb has not been occurring in a vacuum. Rather, it is one of the damaging effects of our fossil-fuel dependent, industrialized world—together with deforestation, topsoil erosion and biodiversity loss, to name just a few. Consequently, phasing out fossil fuels requires a holistic, innovative framework for development that includes not only renewable energy but also the responsible management of all renewable natural resources.

A member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), the Philippines has been leading the charge down that path since learning about the Ecological Footprint methodology a couple of years ago. “Indeed, the time is right for ecological accounting,” declared President Benigno Aquino III in support of the 2012 Philippines Ecological Footprint study.

 

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government


Making a Difference: Sustainability is Now More Important Than Ever

Susan Burns and Mathis Wackernagel, Founders, Global Footprint Network - 12/01/2015 12:10 AM

This is the final post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.

Throughout 2015, we have been eagerly awaiting the climate talks in Paris that began this week. Recent events have expanded the conversation to restoring peace, security and safety. To live in harmony and peace, however, we need to ensure a healthy world that guarantees all people have basic resource security. The link between climate change and national security continues to be more important than ever.

Political and environmental stability are closely linked. For example, an extreme drought in Syria led to massive crop loss and over 1.5 million people migrating from their farms to cities. This exacerbated political unrest in Syria.

Given this backdrop, we at Global Footprint Network are re-doubling our efforts to bring solutions to governments who seek to provide secure lives for their citizens while protecting the natural capital that their communities depend upon. We are proud of our 12-year history of raising awareness globally about ecological overshoot and providing tools that will help people to thrive within our planet’s limits.

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government, Personal Footprint


Thanksgiving Potatoes Anyone? Ecological Footprinting in The Martian Movie

11/25/2015 01:30 PM

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!


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Categories: Ecological Limits, Personal Footprint


Making a Difference: Advising the President of the Philippines

JR Nereus Acosta, Ph.D., Philippines Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection and General Manager, Laguna Lake - 11/24/2015 05:25 AM

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.

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Footprint for Government, Footprint Standards, Human Development


New China Footprint Website Launches with Release of WWF’s Living Planet Report China 2015

11/11/2015 08:01 PM

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.

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Categories: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Limits, Human Development, Our Partners’ Work


Making a Difference: Bringing Sustainable Farming to Iran

Mahsa Fatemi, Research Intern - 11/09/2015 11:58 PM

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.

Listen to Mahsa speak about sustainable farming in Iran.

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. 

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Categories: Ecological Limits, Human Development