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Home 4.Population and environment 4.2. The current state of the debate 4.2.4. The quantification of the human activities impact: the ‘ecological footprint’

4.2.4. The quantification of the human activities impact: the ‘ecological footprint’

Some scientists have created an environmental indicator in order to obtain a graphical representation of the impacts of the economic and industrial activities, called the ecological footprint, which relates the population with the territory it occupies, since its definition says: ‘the surface of cultivable land needed for sustaining the population from a specific territory, according to its standard of living and consumption level’.

The need of creating this indicator is due to the fact that ‘the ecological location of the human settlements doesn’t match up with their geographical location’, because nowadays the cities and the regions depend on a wide and increasing hinterland of cultivable lands in order to produce resources. In other words, the human settlements do not only affect the area of the settlement itself.

Another factor to be considered in the ecological footprint calculation is the consumption of food, materials and energy, according to the surface of biologically productive land needed for obtaining these resources, or in the case of the energy, for absorbing the carbonic anhydride emissions, by measuring it in units of land area, equivalent to a hectare of world-average productivity.

Then, the aim of this indicator is to show the differences of the demand and the consumption of natural resources, in absolute and also in per capita terms, between areas with different development levels.

The Meadows Report states that world consumption of 2,85 area units per capita is 30% higher than the ecological availability (2,18 units) and show the obvious regional differences, as the OECD countries have an ecological footprint of 7,22 units (exceeding more than twice its biological capacity) whereas the rest of countries have 1,81 units ones (practically equal to their capacity of 1,82 units).

In other words, the ecological impact caused by 1100 million inhabitants from developed countries is equal to the impact caused by 17000 million inhabitants from China or India, according to their population standards, or even 77000 from Bangladesh, according to its standards.


MODULE "WORLD POPULATION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT". Author: Joan Alberich. joan.alberich@urv.cat.
DOW/URV Chair Sustainable Development.