The concept of “ecological footprints” is a recent development as more and more people have to terms with the long-term environmental damage resulting from unrestrained exploitation of natural and man-made resources. For many years, the United States was the world’s leader in consumption of natural resources. According to data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States uses one gallon of oil every two minutes; and every American “uses about 47,000 pounds of newly mined materials each year.” [www.epa.gov/osw/education/quest/pdfs/unit1/chap1/u1_natresources.pdf] These figures represent one industrialized country. With the scale of economic development underway in China and India, each possessing a population in excess of one billion people, and considerably weaker environmental measures than even the United States with its population of 300 million, the prognosis for Planet Earth is not good.
“Ecological footprints” refer to the amount of nonrenewable resources used by each individual, community, city, and country, and the impact of that resource use on the broader environment. In line with the above mentioned role of the United States, the U.S. ecological footprint is clearly out of proportion to its percentage of the world’s population. Figures accumulated by the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, the United States, “with less than 5% of the world’s population . . . consumes 19% of the world’s energy and accounts for 19% of world GDP [Gross Domestic Product].” [css.snre.umich.edu/css_doc/CSS08-08.pdf]
By focusing on the ecological footprint at both the micro (i.e., individual) and macro (city, nation) levels, consumption of resources and cumulative impact on the environment can be reduced, which is essential for the long-term health of the planet. The more cognizant each individual becomes of – and the more sensitive to – his or her impact on the environment, measured in terms of ecological footprint, the greater the prospect that the natural process of rejuvenation of the environment, which lags behind resource usage, can catch up to levels of human consumption. Absent such a trend, consumption will continue to outpace rejuvenation, with dire consequences for humanity.