Footprint Perils: Why Not Living Within Our Means is Harmful and How We Can Bring About Change

According to the Global Footprint Network, as of 2013, it would take about 5 Earths to sustain America’s consumption patterns relative to the biological resources the United States has available[1]. This means that as a nation, the United States’ ecological footprint alone exceeds its biological capacity. When ecological footprint data — or lack thereof, also known as the ecological reserve (when a country lives within its means of its biological capacity) — is collected from the world’s countries in total, as of 2013, the world’s people would need about 1.7 Earths to sustain their consumption needs (Global Footprint Network)[2]. Seeing that the world’s population is quickly rising, and knowing that we are already living beyond the means of our Earth’s resources, this should all be alarming.

Figure 1: United States ecological footprint measured over time in number of Earths (Source: Global Footprint Network).

Figure 1: United States ecological footprint measured over time in number of Earths (Source: Global Footprint Network).

Figure 2: World ecological footprint measured over time in number of Earths (Source: Global Footprint Network).

Figure 2: World ecological footprint measured over time in number of Earths (Source: Global Footprint Network).

Some of the things we consume and take part in on a normal basis may be very subtly having a major environmental impact.

Here are a couple of them exposed and some tips on how to reduce our own footprint:

Figure 3: Virtual water content of various products measured in liters (Source: www.waterwise.co.za[1]).

Figure 3: Virtual water content of various products measured in liters (Source: www.waterwise.co.za[1]).

  1. Virtual Water: Virtual water is the water either embedded or hidden in a product, that we as consumers may not directly see, and/or it is the water that was used to make a product. Virtual water can be found in considerable amounts in meats, dairy products, and even clothing. Significant amounts of virtual water can cause our Earth’s most precious resource: water, to be overconsumed, which can result in an increase in ecological footprint.

In Illustrating that 1 cotton shirt contains about 2700 liters of virtual water, one way to rethink shopping is to buy clothes at thrift stores. Shopping for new clothes will encourage and perpetuate this system of extreme amounts of virtual water being used to make products, but buying used/thrifting can reuse what has already been made and can save future resource consumption.

 

2.     Material Waste and Food Waste: When do not dispose of, recycle, or reuse our products properly, this can be very damaging to the ecosystem. For instance, our waste can end up in places like the ocean and especially with items containing plastic, wildlife in the ocean can be harmed, which can, therefore, disrupt the Earth’s biological diversity. A disruption of biological diversity can cause a reduction in biological capacity.

In another example of waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Every year in the United States, approximately 31% (133 billion pounds) of the overall food supply is wasted, which impacts food security, resource conservation, and contributes to the 18% of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills.”[2]  Additionally, according to Yale Environment 360, when food is wasted and sent to landfills, this can disrupt the balance of the animal ecosystem by causing certain species to overpopulate and others to decline or become threatened[3]. Not to mention the more obvious negative effects that food waste has directly on the lives of humans relative to world hunger. This all increases our ecological footprint and reduces the biological resources we have available to sustain our population.

Global Green USA has a food waste diversion program called Coalition for Resource Recovery that works to turn food waste into assets. To learn more about this program, check out this link here: http://thecorr.org/about_corr.php.

Those most repeated “three R’s”: reducing, reusing, and recycling; and composting, and investing in renewable resources are among ways to reduce our own waste and prevent our ecological footprint from increasing.

How Can You Take Action and Learn More?:


[1] http://www.waterwise.co.za/export/sites/water-wise/downloads/water/What_is_Your_Water_Footprint.pdf

[2] https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/americas-food-waste-problem

[3] http://e360.yale.edu/features/unnatural_balance_how_food_waste_impacts_worlds_wildlife

[1] http://data.footprintnetwork.org/countryTrends.html?cn=231&type=Earth

[2] http://data.footprintnetwork.org/countryTrends.html?cn=5001&type=Earth

Sade Bamimore