Humanity's Ecological Footprint

This estimates how much of the productive capacity of the biosphere people use rel=
This estimates how much of the productive capacity of the biosphere people use

Biodiversity suffers when the planet's biocapacity cannot keep pace with human consumption and waste generation

The Ecological Footprint  tracks this in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water needed to provide ecological resources and services – food, fibre, and timber, land on which to build, and land to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) released by burning fossil fuels.

The Earth’s biocapacity is the amount of biologically productive area – cropland, pasture, forest, and fisheries – that is available to meet humanity’s needs.

Since the late 1980s, we have been in overshoot  - the Ecological Footprint has exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity -  by about 25%.

Effectively, the Earth’s regenerative capacity can no longer keep up with demand – people are turning resources into waste faster than nature can turn waste back into resources.

Humanity is no longer living off nature’s interest, but drawing down its capital.

This growing pressure on ecosystems is causing habitat destruction or degradation and permanent loss of productivity, threatening both biodiversity and human well-being.

NB: Freshwater consumption is not included in the Ecological Footprint

For how long can this go on?

A moderate business-as-usual scenario, based on United Nations projections of slow, steady growth of economies and populations, suggests that by 2050, humanity’s demand on nature will be twice the biosphere’s productive capacity.

At this level of ecological deficit, exhaustion of ecological assets and large-scale ecosystem collapse become increasingly likely.

What can be done?

Moving towards sustainability depends on significant action now.

Population size changes slowly, and human-made capital – homes, cars, roads, factories, or power plants – can last for many decades.

This implies that policy and investment decisions made today will continue to determine our resource demand throughout much of the 21st century.

As the Living Planet Index shows, human pressure is already threatening many of the biosphere’s assets. Even moderate “business as usual” is likely to accelerate these negative impacts. And given the slow response of many biological systems, there is likely to be a considerable time lag before ecosystems benefit significantly from people’s positive actions.

We share the Earth with 5–10 million species or more
By choosing how much of the planet’s biocapacity we appropriate, we determine how much is left for their use.

To maintain biodiversity, it is essential that a part of the biosphere’s productive capacity is reserved for the survival of other species, and that this share is split between all biogeographic realms and major biomes.

To manage the transition to sustainability, we need measures that demonstrate where we have been, where we are today, and how far we still have to go.

The Living Planet Index and the Ecological Footprint help to establish baselines, set targets, and monitor achievements and failures.

Such vital information can stimulate the creativity and innovation required to address humanity’s biggest challenge: how can we live well while sustaining the planet’s other species and living within the capacity of one Earth?
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