Humanity’s ecological footprint may have leveled off after decades of consistent increase, according to new data released last week by the Global Footprint Network.
Mathis Wackernagel, founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network, speaking in an interview with me from Oxford University just before the launch, said, “We may have reached peak eco-footprint, after years of expansion. For example, China underwent a rapid expansion of its footprint, and now it has flattened. This could be a real trend.”
What is ecological footprint?
Ecological footprint is a shorthand way of understanding the relationship between our consumption of resources and the capacity of the planet to provide them and absorb the pollution we cause.
Every individual, a community or nation has their own ecological footprint. It is the biologically productive space needed to renew all that we demand from nature. For the world as a whole, it was in the early 1970s when humanity started consuming more than the planet could regenerate. From then on we have been in deficit, implying that we cannot carry on consuming at this level without ever-stronger risk of ecological crises.
Global Footprint Network has been providing this country and planetary level data for many years but last week’s launch also saw the launch of a new data platform and an open source system, meaning that anyone can now freely explore and interrogate the data on global or national bases.
The new data is compiled from statistics provided by the United Nations and, being complicated to collect, is always three or four years behind the current year. The first year in which the data was collected was 1961. The new website currently provides time series of data for every year between 1961 and 2014.
This is what the world’s ecological footprint looks like over this period: