One Earth Just Isn’t Enough: Humanity’s Ecological Footprint

By: Olivia Bauer

The population is booming. Cities are developing. Production is flourishing. Aren’t all of these things beneficial? At first glance, they seemingly are; however, as humans continue to thrive, the earth is doing just the opposite. According to Charlotte McDonald, a BBC.com news writer, if everyone continued to consume the same amount as an average American citizen currently does, humans would need 4 Earths to sustain their lifestyle. This means that it would take 4 years to restore the resources that are used in a single year. Humans are at a population of nearly 7.5 billion, and the extent that we consume resources is doing nothing but harm to the planet. We are using up more resources than the earth can produce and producing more waste than the earth can dispose of. As a whole, humans are increasing their ecological footprint immensely every day.

The ecological footprint measures the environmental toll that an individual or a population has on the environment. This is calculated in terms of water and land used to produce materials and dispose of wastes produced. It considers the effects in terms of forest area, built-up land, grazing land, cropland, fishing grounds, and carbon demand. Many of the commonalities performed by humans, like meat production, driving cars, and building new suburbs, are adding onto this impact, so much that the earth is in an ecological deficit, otherwise known as a surpassing a region’s biocapacity. The largest anthropogenic contributor towards environmental harm is greenhouse gas emissions. The most commonly produced are carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels, and methane, which is largely produced from the livestock involved in the meat and dairy industry. These most noticeably cause the climate to warm because of the greenhouse effect; however, this leads to other disruptions to natural systems like glacial melting, ozone depletion, and water eutrophication and acidification that kill marine life.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, there are other contributors to humans’ large ecological footprint. For example, waters and the air are being polluted with excess nutrients and waste, forests are being cut down and used for industrial practices, native species are being forced out of their homes, and energy is being used inefficiently. All of these factors increase the ecological footprint in one way or another, and actions need to be taken to limit them.
With all the negative environmental effects of our current way of living, the solution is to begin living sustainably. This means living within Earth’s means such that it can sustain future life and maintain fully functioning natural systems. There are many small changes that can be made to decrease your individual ecological footprint. If you would like to calculate your own ecological footprint based on your lifestyle, visit this the Global Footprint Network website to take a test. Not only will you see how many Earths are needed to support your lifestyle, you can also find manageable ways to change your lifestyle so you can begin reducing your footprint. Visit that website for the test and more information on ecological footprints.

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All images sourced from Creative Commons.

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