World's Ecological Footprint Exceeds Biological Capacity by Nearly 40 Percent

New, more comprehensive methodology identifies overfishing, industrial agriculture, urban sprawl and carbon emissions as the chief culprits driving ecological overshoot.

Published: 25-Mar-2006

Oakland, Calif. – Humanity's ecological footprint exceeds the Earth's biological capacity by nearly 40% according to a new Footprint of Nations report by Redefining Progress, an Oakland based policy institute.  The ecological footprint—a concept refined over the past decade by Redefining Progress—is a measure of the amount of nature it takes to sustain a given population over the course of a year.  By comparing a population's footprint with its biological capacity, ecological footprint analysis suggests whether or not that population is living within its ecological means.  If a population's footprint exceeds its biological capacity, that population is said to be engaging in unsustainable ecological overshoot.  According to the new Footprint of Nations report, humanity's footprint is 57 acres per person while the Earth's biological capacity is just 41. 

"The ecological footprint is becoming an increasingly accurate tool for monitoring humanity's impact on our planet's vital life support systems.  Our new results should heighten concern about ecological overshoot and our new tools give the whole world the ability to understand and then to act," said Michel Gelobter, Executive Director of Redefining Progress.

RP's new ecological footprint analysis underscores the need to act soon to curb a runaway greenhouse effect, an extinction rate approaching nearly 1000 times the natural rate, and degradation of farmland, forests, fisheries, and pastures.  The good news is that the largest single threat, climate change, is now being addressed by the Kyoto Protocol.  The ecological footprint highlights the need to make even deeper cuts in our consumption of fossil fuel based energy and increase the speed of the transition to widespread renewable energy.

The latest Footprint of Nations report is available on-line at  The report was based on a new approach to ecological footprint analysis – Footprint 2.0 – pioneered by Dr. Jason Venetoulis, a Research Fellow at Redefining Progress. 

According to Venetoulis, "Footprint 2.0 paints a more compelling portrait of planetary environmental stress than the standard footprint approach.  For the first time, our unsustainable use of fisheries and crop lands is made explicit, as is the enormous share of ecological overshoot attributable to carbon dioxide emissions. The previous version of Footprint that is widely used and cited failed to capture these troublesome findings. Footprint 2.0 appears to be a step in the right direction to better science and information for decision makers."  

The new Footprint of Nations report also underscores the inequitable distribution of the world's ecological footprint.  "Nations with more voracious appetites for consumer goods, fossil fuels, and urban sprawl carry the largest responsibility for global environmental stress while poorer, less urbanized nations that are less reliant on fossil fuels are more likely to be living within their biological capacities,"  said John Talberth, Director of the Sustainability Indicators Program. 

In addition to the Footprint of Nations report, RP's footprint website provides ecological footprint and biological capacity accounts for 138 nations over a forty year time span.  "It is our hope that researchers in the field will use the new data to help shape public policies to reduce the footprint of nations, states, and cities and to advance the science and application of ecological footprint analysis," Talberth continued.

Redefining Progress has published its Footprint of Nations reports on a regular basis since 1997.  This year's report is based on a new methodology, Footprint 2.0, which responds to some of the critiques of ecological footprint analysis noted in the literature.  The report discusses the origins of footprint analysis, the justification for the new Footprint 2.0 methodology, new global, regional, and national results and a research agenda for further refinements to ecological footprint analysis. 

Redefining Progress is an Oakland-based policy institute working to shift the economy and public policy towards sustainability.  RP's Sustainability Indicators Program provides communities, public officials, and business leaders with analytical tools and educational programs that help protect our environment and promote a more equitable and just society.  RP conducts independent research to support sustainability campaigns of our partners and provides sustainability analysis services for municipal, non-profit, business, and educational clients. 

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