Home Ecology Writings

Ecological Footprint

E-mail Print PDF

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.[1] It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population consumes, and to mitigate associated waste. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity if everybody followed a given lifestyle. For 2006, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.4 planet Earths – in other words, humanity uses ecological services 1.4 times as fast as Earth can renew them.[2] Every year, this number is recalculated — with a three year lag due to the time it takes for the UN to collect and publish all the underlying statistics.

While the term ecological footprint is widely used,[3] methods of calculation vary. However, standards are now emerging to make results more comparable and consistent.[4]



Ecological footprint for different nations compared to their Human Development Index.


The first academic publication about the ecological footprint was by William Rees in 1992.[5] The ecological footprint concept and calculation method was developed as the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under Rees' supervision at theUniversity of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990–1994.[6] Originally, Wackernagel and Rees called the concept "appropriated carrying capacity".[7] To make the idea more accessible, Rees came up with the term "ecological footprint," inspired by a computer technician who praised his new computer's "small footprint on the desk."[8] In early 1996, Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.[9]

Ecological footprint analysis compares human demand on nature with the biosphere's ability to regenerate resources and provide services. It does this by assessing the biologically productive land and marine area required to produce the resources a population consumes and absorb the corresponding waste, using prevailing technology. Footprint values at the end of a survey are categorized for Carbon, Food, Housing, and Goods and Services as well as the total footprint number of Earths needed to sustain the world's population at that level of consumption. This approach can also be applied to an activity such as the manufacturing of a product or driving of a car. This resource accounting is similar to life cycle analysis wherein the consumption of energy, biomass (food, fiber), building material, water and other resources are converted into a normalized measure of land area called 'global hectares' (gha).

Per capita ecological footprint (EF) is a means of comparing consumption and lifestyles, and checking this against nature's ability to provide for this consumption. The tool can inform policy by examining to what extent a nation uses more (or less) than is available within its territory, or to what extent the nation's lifestyle would be replicable worldwide. The footprint can also be a useful tool to educate people about carrying capacity and over-consumption, with the aim of altering personal behavior. Ecological footprints may be used to argue that many current lifestyles are not sustainable. Such a global comparison also clearly shows the inequalities of resource use on this planet at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

In 2006, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita. The U.S. footprint per capita was 9.0 gha, and that of Switzerland was 5.6 gha per person, while China's was 1.8 gha per person.[10][11] The WWF claims that the human footprint has exceeded the biocapacity (the available supply of natural resources) of the planet by 20%.[12] Wackernagel and Rees originally estimated that the available biological capacity for the 6 billion people on Earth at that time was about 1.3 hectares per person, which is smaller than the 1.8 global hectares published for 2006, because the initial studies neither used global hectares nor included bioproductive marine areas.[9]

Ecological footprint analysis is now widely used around the globe as an indicator of environmental sustainability. It can be used to measure and manage the use of resources throughout the economy. It can be used to explore the sustainability of individual lifestyles, goods and services, organizations, industry sectors, neighborhoods, cities, regions and nations.[13] Since 2006, a first set of ecological footprint standards exist that detail both communication and calculation procedures. They are available at www.footprintstandards.org and were developed in a public process facilitated by Global Footprint Network and its partner organizations.


Open Source Ecology

E-mail Print PDF

What is Open Source Ecology (OSE)?

Marcin Jakubowski - part 1 from East Bay Pictures on Vimeo

Download our short brochure: Factor e Farm in Five Minutes Or view it online

Distillations videos

The Distillations videos give an overview of OSE and the progress at Factor e Farm in 2008.


Open Source Ecology is developing and testing the Global Village Construction Set, a set of tools to build replicable, open source, modern, off-grid resilient communities. By weaving open source permacultural and technological cycles together, we intend to provide basic human needs while being good stewards of the land, using resources sustainably, and pursuing right livelihood. With the gift of openly shared information, we can produce industrial products locally using open source design and digital fabrication. This frees us from the need to participate in the wasteful resource flows of the larger economy by letting us produce our own materials and components for the technologies we use. We see small, independent, land-based economies as means to transform societies, address pressing world issues, and evolve to freedom.



E-mail Print PDF

Cultural ecologyCultural ecology studies the relationship between a given society and its natural environment as well as the life-forms and ecosystems that support its lifeways. This may be carried out diachronically (examining entities that existed in different epochs), or synchronically (examining a present system and its components). The central argument is that the natural environment, in small scale or subsistence societies dependent in part upon it - is a major contributor to social organization and other human institutions.

In the academic realm, when combined with study of political economy, the study of economies as polities, it becomes political ecology, another academic subfield. It also helps interrogate historical events like the Easter Island Syndrome.


  • 1 Coining the term
  • 2 Cultural ecology in anthropology
  • 3 Cultural ecology as a transdisciplinary project
  • 4 Cultural ecology in literary studies
  • 5 Cultural ecology in geography
  • 6 Conceptual views of culture and ecology
    • 6.1 The Human Species
    • 6.2 The Ecology of Man
    • 6.3 Man's Impact on Nature
    • 6.4 Changing the Face of the Earth
    • 6.5 Relationship in the 21st Century
    • 6.6 Educational framework
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links
  • 9 See also

Coining the term

Anthropologist Julian Steward (1973) is associated with the term. In his Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution (1955), cultural ecology represents the "ways in which culture change is induced by adaptation to the environment."


Ancient Wisdom and Contemporary Ecological Problems

E-mail Print PDF

Lloyd Fell, David Russell & Alan Stewart (eds)
Seized by Agreement, Swamped by Understanding

Ancient Wisdom
and Contemporary Ecological Problems

David Russell, Vladimir Dimitrov and Lloyd Fell 


AborigineThe Australian Aborigines' environmental culture and the "double bind" approach used in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous are considered as a source for the generation of a new strategy for dealing with the ecological problems of our day. The strategy aims at achieving a negotiated outcome in issues of high societal risk related to waste management in the Hawkesbury region of Sydney, Australia. 


The contemporary ecological problems are created by all of us and we are the beings who have to deal with them. This is an axiom. It is an illusion that science and technology, no matter how powerful, can save the world from ecological disasters.

The idea of scientific and technological "miracles" creates a distorted image of human power that "we are beings who possess nature and that our ability to transform and model it, using the power of our omnipotent brain, will help us to deal successfully with the ecological crisis". Such an attitude is totally wrong because it considers human beings at a particular position outside nature, imposing their decisions and actions upon it. By putting ourselves at a position of dominance over nature, we disenfranchise ourselves completely, because we are part of this nature. The way we relate to other parts of it is of crucial importance for our survival.

All traditional state religions have one God-man at the top of a universal hierarchy. The Darwinian model, together with the contemporary humanistic philosophy reinforce the idea that human beings are elevated above any other creatures. Nature is considered as a force that must be kept at bay by human will and strength. Such a point of view justifies easily the intensive exploitation of the earth's natural resources and of all other creatures in the name of satisfaction of the human requirements. The same point is visible in all approaches, applying to the design of our contemporary military, government, economic and even ecological (!) systems.


Interconnections, Relationships, and Environmental Wholes: A Phenomenological Ecology of Natural and Built Worlds

E-mail Print PDF

Ecology of Natural and Built Worlds

Ecology, both as a science and as a world view, emphasizes the study of relationships, interconnections, and environmental wholes that are different from the sum of their environmental parts. “Special qualities emerge out of interactions and collectivities,” writes intellectual historian Donald Worster (1994, p. 22), in his Nature’s Economy, a history of ecological ideas in the Western world. [1]

The central question I address here is this: What do the relationships, interconnections, and environmental wholes of ecology become in a phenomenological perspective? [2] To examine this question, I consider one phenomenon from the natural world—color—and one phenomenon from the humanmade world—lively urban places. I think it important to offer an example from both natural and human worlds because a “phenomenological ecology,” as it might be called, must be responsive to all lived relationships and interconnections, examining and describing the ways that things, living forms, people, events, situations and worlds come together to make environmental and human wholes (Riegner 1993, p. 211-12; Seamon 1993, p. 16). [3]

By “lively urban places,” I refer to city neighborhoods and districts that provide easy access for pedestrians and generate, just by being what they are, chance face-to-face encounters, sidewalk life, and a sense of taken-for-granted safety because many people are present. To discuss a phenomenology of lively urban places, I turn to my own work on the bodily dimensions of environmental experience and action, especially as the lived body comes to know its everyday environment through the regularity and routine of extended time-space patterns contributing to the transformation of physical space into lived place.


Page 2 of 3

Choose Language