Footprint Basics - Overview

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Humanity needs what nature provides, but how do we know how much we’re using and how much we have to use?

The Ecological Footprint has emerged as the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. This accounting system tracks, on the demand side (Footprint), how much land and water area a human population uses to provide all it takes from nature. This includes the areas for producing the resource it consumes, the space for accommodating its buildings and roads, and the ecosystems for absorbing its waste emissions such as carbon dioxide. These calculations account for each year’s prevailing technology, as productivity and technological efficiency change from year to year. The accounting system also tracks the supply of nature: it documents how much biologically productive area is available to provide these services (biocapacity ). Therefore, these accounts are able to compare human demand against nature’s supply of biocapacity.

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Our current global situation: Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year.

It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.

We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources. Overshoot is a vastly underestimated threat to human well-being and the health of the planet, and one that is not adequately addressed.

By measuring the Footprint of a population—an individual, city, business, nation, or all of humanity—we can assess our pressure on the planet, which helps us manage our ecological assets more wisely and take personal and collective action in support of a world where humanity lives within the Earth’s bounds.

Conceived in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia, the Ecological Footprint is now in wide use by scientists, businesses, governments, agencies, individuals, and institutions working to monitor ecological resource use and advance sustainable development.