Footprints from 2 feet

10 06 2012

As a human with 2 feet have you ever thought of the different footprints you leave behind by living?

This article is a short introduction to some of the different footprint measures used to assess the resources used by an individual, an organization, a country or the entire human population. I say short because as you will quickly discover there are many ways to measure our impact and the resources we need to survive on this planet called Earth.

You probably have heard of the Ecological Footprint, this is the most comprehensive.

It is described by Global Footprint Network (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/at_a_glance/) as “a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.”

The description on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint) says that “The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It is a standardized measure of demand for natural capital that may be contrasted with the planet’s ecological capacity to regenerate.”

The Ecological Footprint is a data-driven metric that tells us how close we are to the goal of sustainable living. Footprint accounts work like bank statements, documenting whether we are living within our ecological budget or consuming nature’s resources faster than the planet can renew them. The ecological footprint concept and calculation method was developed as the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under the supervision of William Rees at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990–1994. I use the Global Footprint Network as a main reference for the reason that Wackernagel is the President of Global Footprint Network.

The Ecological Footprint can be thought to be made up, or supported by, a number of other footprints including the:

  • Carbon Footprint which 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. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/carbon_footprint/
  • Water Footprint which measures the freshwater a population uses http://www.waterfootprint.org/

Now you may often hear the term Carbon Emissions but what is it? This definition from EcoLife (http://www.ecolife.com/define/carbon-emission.html) provides a short summary.

“Carbon emission is the release of carbon into the atmosphere. To talk about carbon emissions is simply to talk of greenhouse gas emissions; the main contributors to climate change. Since greenhouse gas emissions are often calculated as carbon dioxide equivalents, they are often referred to as “carbon emissions” when discussing global warming or the greenhouse effect. Since the industrial revolution the burning of fossil fuels has increased, which directly correlates to the increase of carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere and thus the rapid increase of global warming. “

Now on that note we are approaching the topic of Global Warming, which I will leave you to research the wide variety of discussions particularly in the Anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions (i.e., emissions produced by human activities) . You might like to start with looking at the definition of GreenHouse Gases http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

Written by Dr Merrin Pearse

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