The Ecological Footprint measures human impact on nature. In order to live, people consume what nature offers. So, every one of us has an impact on our planet. This is not bad as long as we don’t take more from the Earth than it has to offer. Are we currently taking more than we should? The Ecological Footprint quantifies how much nature we consume. It shows how much productive land and water we occupy to produce the resources we consume and to take in the waste we make.

Why It Matters

Today, humanity’s Ecological Footprint is already over 30 percent larger than what the world can offer. This means we are overusing the planet and liquidating its ecological assets. Examples of our overuse include deforestation, collapsing fisheries, and the build-up of heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere. At the same time, a significant percentage of the world’s people do not have enough resources to meet basic survival needs.

To overcome this sustainability challenge, we need to do a better job of budgeting our planet’s limited resources. Nature provides an average of 2.1 hectares (5.3 acres) of biologically productive space for every person in the world. By 2050 that available space will be reduced to 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres) per person if predictions of global population are accurate. Also, some of this area must be set aside for the estimated 10 million other species on the planet.

By more carefully tracking human impacts on the Earth’s resources, we can learn what needs to be done in order to protect our natural assets. We can all be part of the solution. Together, we can reshape the global economy in a way that will allow all people to meet their essential needs without destroying the limited capacity of our planet.

How big is your Ecological Footprint? The average American uses 12 global hectares (or 30 acres) to support his or her current lifestyle. This corresponds to the total size of 12 soccer fields. In comparison, the average Italian lives on 60 percent less. We will launch these Footprint calculators in honor of Earth Day 2002. They will estimate a personalized Ecological Footprint for each individual. These individual footprints can then be compared to average national and global footprints.

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