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DATE: November 25, 2002
CONTACT: Craig Cheslog (510-444-3041)

Humanity's Consumption Exceeds the Earth's Biological Capacity by 20 Percent

Please follow this link to download a pdf version of this paper.

OAKLAND, Calif.—Redefining Progress' Sustainability Program today released its latest Ecological Footprint of Nations report that outlines the ecological impact of 146 of the world's nations.

The issue brief shows to what extent a nation can support its resource consumption with its available ecological capacity. It also illustrates the degree to which a nation could reproduce its consumption at a global level. The issue brief also outlines the significant improvements and refinements made to the Ecological Footprint accounts since last year's report.

"Humanity's Ecological Footprint exceeds the Earth's biological capacity by 20 percent," explained Sustainability Program Director Mathis Wackernagel. "Many nations, including the United States, are running even larger ecological deficits. As a consequence of this overuse, the human economy is liquidating the Earth's natural capital."

Ecological Footprint accounts provide a conservative estimate of humanity's pressure on global ecosystems. They represent the biologically productive area required to produce the food and wood people consume, to supply space for infrastructure, and to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from burning fossil fuels.

The Ecological Footprint is expressed in "global acres." Each global acre corresponds to one acre of biologically productive space with world average productivity. (An acre is approximately the size of an American football field without its end zones.)

The global Ecological Footprint in 1999 (the latest year for which data is available) is 5.6 global acres per person, while the Earth's biocapacity was 4.7 global acres per person. The United States recorded an Ecological Footprint of 24.0 global acres per American, nearly doubling its national biocapacity of 13.0 global acres per person.

"Sustainability talk is meaningless unless it is backed up by specific measurable commitments and timetables for implementation," said Wackernagel. "We will achieve sustainability only when every person can lead a satisfying life within the Earth's biological capacity. People can use the Ecological Footprint to hold individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments accountable for their sustainability performance."