Ecological footprints exercise

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Ecological Footprints Laboratory Exercise
Like all species, humans need certain resources to survive. However, humans consume
resources not only for survival, but also for comfort, luxury and prestige. Whereas nonhuman species generally must obtain their resources from within their ecosystem, in
contrast, humans have derived ways (transportation) to remove resources from other
ecosystems to satisfy their wants and desires. However, societies are not equal in their
ability to extract, transport, process, manufacture, and use resources. And, societies have
different philosophies and cultural perspectives regarding their desire to utilize resources
beyond basic needs. Thus, there is a question of equitable distribution of resources
among human societies and between humans and other species.
In addition to resource extraction, an additional crucial ecosystem function is the
assimilation of wastes (e.g. air, water and soil pollution; hazardous, solid and radioactive
waste; and waste heat). Again humans have devised ways to discharge wastes into other
ecosystems by building tall smoke stacks, dumping waste in flowing rivers and oceans,
and shipping wastes around the world.
The area of productive land required to provide resources and assimilate waste to meet
consumption needs is referred to as the ecological footprint (Wackernagel and Rees,
1996(). This is different from the carrying capacity, which is the maximum abundance of
a population that can be sustained by a habitat or ecosystem without degrading the habitat
or ecosystem. Because non-humans cannot extract resources from outside their
ecosystem, their population cannot exceed the carrying capacity, which is based on the
availability and amount of an ecosystem’s resources. Thus, a non-human’s ecological
footprint is limited by the size of the ecosystem. In contrast humans have a carrying
capacity for their “ecosystem” (for example, a country). However, because humans can
transfer resources from another country, their ecological footprint can exceed the carrying
capacity. Thus, the United States’ ecological footprint can exceed the carrying capacity
of the United States (i.e. the U. S. can maintain more people than available resources)
because resources are extracted from Mexico, Africa, Saudi Arabia, and so forth. Clearly
this means that for some countries, their ecological footprint must be smaller than the
carrying capacity because the Earth has a finite amount of resources. Or, some
populations must live near the subsistence level, whereas others can live in high comfort.
The ecological footprint is one measure of the sustainability of a society’s current
lifestyle. However, this is an anthropocentric view. If humans consume all the
resources or take over all the biologically productive land, what about non-humans? And
what about humans in less developed countries? This is an issue of environmental
equity. In developing nations such as India, about one hectare is needed to meet the
resources requirements of an average person. In the United States, the average individual
ecological foot print is 10 hectares (24 acres). If everyone in the world consumed
resources equal to the average American, we could need 5 Earths.
Name: ________________________________ Due in lecture one week from today
1. Go to the following website to calculate your ecological footprint:
www.myfootprint.org.
2. Choose the city of Chicago for the city that has the weather most similar to this
area. You will need to know the population size of the city that you live in
(Wilmington has 11,000) and the approximate square footage of the house where
you live. Other questions can be answered easily as you use the calculator. Fill in
your results below.
Number of planets needed:
Category
Acres of My
Footprint
Acres of National
Average Footprint
Acres of My
Footprint
Acres of National
Average Footprint
Carbon
Food
Housing
Goods and Services
Total
Biome Footprint
Cropland Footprint
Pastureland Footprint
Marine Fisheries Footprint
Forestland Footprint
3. How does your footprint compare to the average American footprint? Why do
you think you are higher or lower than the average American?
4. How can reduce your ecological footprint most effectively? (Hint: Change some
of the answers that you can change in your lifestyle and see how this changes
your footprint). What constraints may keep you from reducing your consumption
any further?
5. How do you feel about your consumption pattern and how it affects other humans
on Earth? Do you think that you have an moral obligation to reduce your
footprint?
6. Does this exercise make you want to change your lifestyle slightly? What might
you work on changing right away?
References cited:
Wackernagel, M. and W. Rees. 1996. Our ecological footprint: Reducing human impact on the Earth.
New Society Publishers, British Columbia, Canada.
Adapted from Wagner, T. and R. Sanford. 2005. Environmental Science: Active learning laboratories and
applied problem sets. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.
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