Footprint Network Blog
In 2015, the Ecological Deficit Day of the United States landed on July 14, according to our report, “State of the States: A New Perspective on the Wealth of Our Nation,” co-authored by Earth Economics. The report details the Ecological Footprint and resource availability of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A Twitter chat was hosted on July 14, 2015, at #USAfootprint to discuss the report findings, that resource consumption and availability varies dramatically state by state. View the discussion on Twitter below.
Our vision is that all people of the Earth live well and within the means of nature. We are delighted when this vision is shared by others around the world, and honored when we meet individuals equally passionate about sustainability. Last month, we had the pleasure to meet Freddy Ehlers, minister of the Buen Vivir program in Ecuador. "Buen vivir" translates roughly to good living in English. The program promotes finding a meaning to life that makes living it worthwhile, inspired by service to others and respect toward all beings in nature.
Over the course of his 40-year career, Freddy has worked as a journalist, documentary film producer, Andean community secretary general and Ecuadorian minister of tourism. He studied law at the Universidad Central del Ecuador, pursued graduate studies in political science at Davidson College in the United States and received media training at the Radio Netherlands Training Centre in Holland.
We asked Freddy a few questions about his work at the Ministry of Buen Vivir.
Can you tell us a little bit about how Ecuador values nature, which in turn, supports Buen Vivir?
FE: The Ecuadorian constitution was the first in the world to have a section about the rights of nature because we seem to solely focus on human rights. It’s a start since giving nature rights and making those rights practical is difficult. We have to be interested in that.
What are some public policies in Ecuador aimed at the practice of Buen Vivir?
FE: We support activities that help us disconnect from the craziness of modern life to enable more time connecting with nature and our own hearts. In Ecuador, we believe that a few minutes of stillness and calm breathing could be the greatest revolution in humanity. It’s free, cheap, only takes a few minutes each day and helps support a more conscious way of life. In fact, we make time for this meditation in our schools and children love it.
We’ve also helped change the way consumers receive information about what they’re eating with new, simple, color-coded labels on packaged food items. It uses a low-medium-high scale to label fat, sugar and salt and has been very effective to better inform consumers and change their behavior. As you might expect, companies were absolutely against this new labeling, but now even they are starting to use less sugar and fats in their products.
What other challenges or obstacles has Buen Vivir faced?
FE: We have two personalities. First we worry about what’s happening, and then we do everything that is going to make what’s happening worse. It’s like saying during the day cigarettes are bad for you and can cause cancer but at night celebrating the news that Marlboro’s sales increased which will, in turn provide more work opportunities and move the economy. I also think there is a big problem between knowing how much is enough. According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, "Nothing is enough for the person to whom enough is too little." I think that’s more important than a book. What makes a human being satisfied? I think that’s a big question in the world.
What kind of reception are you getting from other countries?
FE: Fantastic. We were in the State of the Union in Florence [an annual conference organized by the European University Institute for high-level reflection on the European Union]. They were talking about the immigrants coming into the wealthy countries. Why do they come? Because it’s an unjust world. All the richness has been concentrated here and the poor people want to migrate because we’re not an organized society. Instead of thinking about the benefit of the world, countries are only thinking about the benefit of their own country. It doesn’t matter to them how it may harm the other countries. Statistics say 85 people own half of the wealth of the world. That’s impossible. Never, ever before could that have existed. There could be a new French Revolution or American Revolution, a Latin American revolution because now we have a group of people that because they own the technology they get more and more money.
Do you think a revolution is necessary to achieve the greatest level of happiness?
FE: A revolution is necessary, a conscious one, inside ourselves. I dream of a world with more nature than now and cleaner oceans. It is possible, but if we don’t change, nothing will change. It’s a personal decision.
The word in Ecuador is "Ecuador discovered the 'r' in evolution," so a revolution becomes evolution. That evolution is in favor of nature and human beings and not in favor of just a few big companies. So we believe in universal citizenship. We think that we have not only to be thinking just in our mind "mine, mine, mine."
Where can we stay updated with your work at the Ministry of Buen Vivir?
FE: We work with other ministries to create a weekly TV program on YouTube that provides examples on ways to change how you live and how you treat nature. We have a lot of documentaries on human beings and their communities.
The encyclical from Pope Francis this week marks yet another significant milestone in our planet’s march toward a global climate change agreement in Paris this December. The fact that the leader to more than 1 billion Catholics—roughly 14 percent of the world’s population—is urging action on climate change is undeniable evidence of growing support for an agreement that even global warming naysayers cannot refute.
In the 192-page draft circulating this week, Pope Francis openly blames global warming in part on “a model of development based on … fossil fuels” and calls for more renewable energy development instead, according to a Washington Post translation. Indeed, at 55 percent of the world’s Ecological Footprint, the carbon Footprint is the single largest driver of our planet’s ecological overshoot, which occurs when humanity’s demand on nature exceeds what nature can regenerate. Fortunately, many countries who already have submitted proposals for the climate talks in December are proposing major reductions in carbon emissions, though the International Energy Agency suggested this week they would not be enough to curb climate change.
Today is the International Day of Families, a day marked annually by the UN General Assembly on the 15th of May to “increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.” This year’s focus is gender equality, including education and income-generation opportunity.
As an organization with a vision of a world that works for everyone, we believe that empowering women is one of the most important things we can do in service of global sustainability because it yields huge benefits not only for children and families, but for the world as a whole.
“When women have the opportunity to participate as equals, lower reproductive rates invariably ensue,” says Global Footprint Network CEO Susan Burns. “The reason this is so important is that we cannot ignore population growth if we are truly committed to people having secure lives in a world of finite resources.”
Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, was in Florence, Italy, this week to receive the IAIA Global Environment Award for developing the Ecological Footprint. “The Global Environment Award is presented annually to a leading individual or institution that has made a substantial contribution to the practice of environmental assessment, management or policy at a global scale,” according to the International Association for Impact Assessment. This global network believes, in its own words, that “the assessment of the environmental, social, economic, cultural, and health implications for proposals is a critical contribution to sound decision-making processes, and to equitable and sustainable development.” IAIA is recognizing the Ecological Footprint for efficiently “translating the complexity of humanity’s impact on the environment into a compelling, understandable and actionable form.”
Previous recipients of the award include:
2014 John Ruggie, USA
2013 International Finance Corporation, USA
2012 Int’l Network for Enviro Compliance & Enforcement, USA
2011 Not awarded
2010 Nicholas Stern, UK
2009 The Carter Center’s River Blindness Program, USA
2008 Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Canada
2007 Lawrence E. Susskind, USA
2006 Wangari Maathai, Kenya
2005 James Gustave Speth, USA
2004 Margot Wallstrom, Sweden
2003 Mostafa Kamal Tolba, Egypt
2002 Jan Pronk, The Netherlands
2001 Maurice Strong, Canada
The text from Wackernagel’s acceptance speech is below:
Earth Day’s 45th anniversary is being celebrated today around the world. On this day—less than one-third into the calendar year—humanity already has used about half of all renewable natural resources and services that the planet can generate this year, according to Global Footprint Network’s data. Despite this sobering fact, let’s not lose sight of the many signs that a perfect storm is brewing for 2015 to be the most exciting year to date for sustainability.
All eyes are on the Paris Climate Summit, a much-anticipated event which is already boasting the tag line "For a universal climate agreement." Some 23 years after the first Rio Summit and 18 years after the historic Kyoto Protocol was signed, the nations of the world are closer than ever before to making a binding commitment to act on climate change. If the negotiations are successful, that commitment would entail a clear, shared goal (maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range,) detailed action plans and a timeline.
"I’ve always been driven by opportunities where analysis and knowledge generation can impact policies."
Derek joined Global Footprint Network this month to lead analytics on resource accounting and the implications for policy and sustainability solutions. An economist with a Ph.D. from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, he brings more than 20 years of experience in undertaking research that informs and drives decision makers.
Prior to joining Global Footprint Network, Derek was Executive Director of the Centre for International Environmental Studies at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. Before that, Derek served as a core member of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative, where he managed the integrated modeling assessment in UNEP’s 2011 flagship report, "Towards a Green Economy." He also has worked for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). See his full bio here.
In the following Q&A, Derek talks to us about his professional journey, the importance of behavior change in achieving sustainability, the first project for the United Nations that he is leading on our team.
Did you know that China reversed its deforestation trend in 1989 (PDF: especially pp. 13,14) and has expanded its forests by close to 47 million hectares, according to national data collected by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This translates to a 33 percent increase in forest biocapacity, based on Global Footprint Network’s calculations.
Or did you know that Costa Rica brought the destruction of its forests to a halt in the mid-1980s after a 47 percent drop in its forest land biocapacity since 1961, then climbing again by 9.2 percent since 2000?
Or that the top net exporters of forest products are middle- and upper-income countries that are rich in forest biocapacity, with the largest ones being Canada, Russia and Sweden? And that the top net importers are China, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan? This refutes the hypothesis that forest overharvesting linked to biodiversity loss is mainly driven by high-income countries liquidating assets of low-income, tropical countries, although unreported illegal logging may be skewing the underlying data.
Xie Gaodi from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is the lead author of a recent research paper published in the journal Sustainability. He recently talked with Global Footprint Network about the unsustainability of giant cities.
Between 2008 and 2012, the population of Beijing climbed from 23 million to more than 30 million—a whopping 30 percent in just four years. One direct impact of this rapid demographic surge, which includes permanent residents and "floating" population such as tourists, was the drastic increase in Beijing's reliance on food produced in areas located outside of, and increasingly further out from, the city's boundaries, stresses a new article in the journal Sustainability authored by several researchers in China. The challenge caused by Beijing's insufficient agricultural resources was compounded by high land prices, the researchers pointed out.
Over those five years, Beijing's dependence on non-local food supplies grew from 48 percent to 64 percent of total food consumption in the metropolitan area, according to the article, "The Outward Extension of an Ecological Footprint in City Expansion: The Case of Beijing."
The authors introduce the notion of Ecological Footprint distance (abbreviated as Def) to reveal the average distance that natural resources required to support a population's Ecological Footprint travel to reach that population.
Researchers stressed that food accounts for the significantly biggest part of Beijing's consumed biocapacity in terms of weight.
If everyone on Earth lived the lifestyle of the Cloughjordan Ecovillage, we would be remarkably close to living within the budget of our planet’s ecological resources. Researcher Vince Carragher’s bottom-up Ecological Footprint accounting methodology helps residents stay on track.
Seven years after construction started in the middle of Ireland, Cloughjordan Ecovillage counts 54 homes. Its solar- and wood-powered community heating system is up and running, as are the wood-oven bakery and the eco-hostel for visitors. The organic, bio-dynamic community farm, one of the largest community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in Ireland, caters to over 60 families; it can serve 80 when operating at full capacity.
Cloughjordan Ecovillage residents have an average Ecological Footprint per capita of only 2 global hectares (gha), according to the first Ecological Footprint survey of residents that was carried out last spring and presented to the community in November. By way of comparison, Global Footprint Network estimates that the average amount of biocapacity that is available per person on the planet is 1.7 gha.
The survey was conducted by Vincent Carragher, energy manager and research coordinator at Tipperary Energy Agency and an expert on local scale material and resource flow analysis and decarbonisation. His bottom-up approach, which he developed during his doctorate research on Ballina, an Irish community of 700 households, focuses on data collected directly from each household. It is based on the original Ecological Footprint accounting methodology developed by Mathis Wackernagel, now president of Global Footprint Network, and William Rees at the University of British Columbia, and other subsequent works.