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Ecological footprints

Ecological footprints are based on the area of bioproductive land and sea that is available to provide food and raw materials, absorb waste and pollution, and provide space for infrastructure wherever that land or sea might be. The total area of bioproductive land and sea is shared by the population of the world.

In 2001, it was estimated that the planet had a capacity of 1.8 global hectares per person (1.8 ghacap) and that the average ecological footprint stood at 2.2 ghacap. The average footprint of people in different countries varies: USA 9.6 ghacap, UK 5.4 ghacap, India 0.8 ghacap.

Current levels of consumption are unsustainable because natural resources are being consumed at a rate which is faster than they can be regenerated.

It would require the resources of three Earths to sustain us if everyone in the world adopted the UK's current levels of consumption. The ecological footprint game on the following website provides a useful introduction to footprinting: www.environment-agency.gov.ukfun370863

Footprint facts

A UN report says: "The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of production and consumption." Between 1970 and 2000 the average global ecological footprint increased by 70 per cent while the populations of 1,100 species tracked by WWF's Living Planet Index declined by an average 40 per cent. One species of plant or animal becomes extinct every 20 minutes.

Ecological footprinting - categories of land use

* Bioproductive land- crops, pasture, timber

* Bioproductive sea - fish and seafood

* Energy land - absorbs carbon dioxide from energy use

* Built or degraded land - used for homes, roads, landfill sites etc

* Biodiversity land - habitats for wildlife Useful websites

Ecological footprint calculator: www.myfootprint.org

Taking action to reduce consumption: www.wwf.org.ukcoretakeactionrethink.asp

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