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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2002 : Timelines

Timelines
Measure Your “Footprint”

Cars, cows, sprawl and oil are just
a few factors that account for the gigantic “footprint” Americans make on the global environment.


The Ecological Footprint Quiz, created by Redefining Progress and launched in conjunction with Earth Day Network, is a scientifically-based tool that allows individuals to calculate the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to produce the resources they use and absorb the wastes they produce. The Ecological Footprint measurement is also used to assess the impact of communities, nations and the world as a whole. The quick and easy 15-question Footprint Quiz can be found at www.earthday.net/footprint.stm.

Currently, the Footprint Quiz is available for 58 countries, ranging from the U.S. to Nigeria, and can be accessed in English, French, Spanish and German. It will soon be available in additional languages.

The average American uses 24 global acres to support his or her current lifestyle. This corresponds to the size of 24 football fields (without their end zones) put together. In comparison, the average Canadian lives on a Footprint 30 percent less, and the average Italian on a Footprint 60 percent less than the average American.

Footprint results are calculated in “global acres.” Each of those acres corresponds to one acre of biologically productive space with world average productivity. Today, there are 4.5 global acres of biologically productive space available per person on the earth. In contrast, the global average footprint size is 5.6 global acres per person, a figure over 25 percent higher than the earth’s ecological capacity.

“If everyone lived like the average American, we would need 5.3 planets to support us,” noted Michel Gelobter, executive director of Redefining Progress.

According to Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, “this is rock solid evidence of what I call the ‘six and 60’ problem we must tackle. The United States has just six percent of the world’s population yet consumes 60 percent of its resources. This is a formula for disaster. The answer is actually startling simple: when millions of people take a small action to improve the Earth, we get a very large solution.”

Earth Day Network and Redefining Progress are launching a worldwide campaign to have individuals take the Ecological Footprint Quiz. The submitted results will be compiled and the findings will be presented to world leaders at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“For the first time, world leaders will have a crystal clear picture of the immense imbalance between what we take from the earth and what’s available to support us,” said Rogers. The Johannesburg Summit “will be the place and time for past promises to become tomorrow’s actions and the footprints of millions can lead the way for world leaders,” she added.

“We are eroding the planet’s natural capital on which we depend” Gelobter said. “In business, drawing down assets to finance ongoing operations is recognized as a strategy that ultimately weakens an enterprise. The same is true for the planet.”


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