Airdate: Mar 26, 2004
Scientist: Mathis Wackernagel, PHD
Ecological Footprint: Only One Planet
Ecologists have found a way to quantify human consumption of our planet's natural commodities.
ambience: Ventana Wilderness, dawn chorus
It's often said that industrialized societies use more than their share of the world's resources. But how much is too much? I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Ecologists set out to measure human consumption using something known as an "ecological footprint." Dr. Mathis Wachernagel directs the Sustainability Program for the public policy group Redefining Progress.
"It’s quite simple. There’s one earth, and we’re six billion people. The ecological footprint is an accounting tool to say how much nature do we have - - essentially one planet - - and how much do we use? So we can directly compare human demand on nature with nature's supply."
The amount of nature it takes to support your lifestyle is your "ecological footprint." You begin by estimating the world's resources acre by acre -- factoring in nature's capacity to regenerate important commodities like trees, food, and fresh water. Then you simply divide those acres of resources by the number people on the planet.
"If we divide up the total ecologically productive space on the planet by the number of people, what we get is five acres per person. That’s about the size of an average size aircraft carrier, to take a romantic example. Now, in the United States, in average, we use about twenty-five to thirty acres per person to provide all our services. That means to produce all the food, all the fiber, to absorb the CO2, for for energy, for example - - to provide space for cities and roads, etc. If everybody on the planet lived like the average American, we actually would need about six planets. But we only have one."
We'll hear more about changing our ecological footprint in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.