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Facing up to our ecological footprint
Nouha stared at her Ecological Footprint in disbelief. She had just completed a quiz that measured her impact on nature. 'If everyone lived like you, we would need 4.5 planets.'

Firm in the belief that she was an environmentally conscious member of the community, Nouha had attempted the quiz with confidence. After all, she rarely wasted materials. She recycled, threw litter only in bins, participated with enthusiasm in cleanup campaigns, switched off lights when not required, never bought ivory or other items made from the body parts of endangered species…

Admittedly, doubts had crept in as she was filling the questionnaire. The queries posed were not ones that came to mind while she followed her 'ecologically sensitive' lifestyle. There were questions on animal-based foods consumed; processed, packaged and imported foods eaten; size of the house lived in; fuel efficiency of her car; frequency of travel using public transport, and so on. She had been truthful with her answers.

'Well,' she consoled herself, 'At least my footprint is smaller than the country's average.' Nouha lived in the United Arab Emirates. If the world lived like each individual in the UAE, we would need 5.5 planets.

The Footprint
For every kind of energy or matter we consume to maintain our lifestyles, some natural resource, somewhere, gets used up and waste is produced. The Ecological Footprint (EF), a resource management tool, measures how much productive land and water an individual, a city, a country or humanity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb all the waste it generates. This land and water area could be anywhere in the world. The EF is measured in global hectares, which represents the equivalent area (space) of world average productivity. It can also be measured in number of planets, whereby one planet represents the biological capacity of the Earth in a given year.

People's use of renewable resources is considered. These, and the ecological services they provide, are at even greater risk than the non-renewable resources such as mineral ores and petroleum. The name renewable is misleading. Renewable resources can be depleted if drawn down more rapidly than nature can build them back up. If we catch more fish than are spawned, the fish stocks die. If we dump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than nature can reabsorb, the atmosphere heats up and the climate is thrown out of balance. If we pump more water out of an aquifer than the rate at which it is recharged, it gets depleted.

To live, we consume what nature offers and every action impacts the planet's ecosystems. This is of little concern as long as human use of resources does not exceed what the earth can renew.

Ecological Overshoot

But today there is cause for concern. The WWF's Living Planet Report 2004 confirms that humanity is now consuming over 20 % more natural resources than the Earth can regenerate. We are plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life.


• Global EF: 2.2 global ha/person

• Area available (for humans alone, with nothing kept aside for other species): 1.8 global ha/person

• Ecological overshoot: 20 %

In other words, it now takes at least one year and two months for the earth to regenerate what we use in a single year. We maintain this overdraft by liquidating the planet's natural resources, running up an ecological debt (overshoot).

Ecological overshoot is real; a situation created when humanity consumes more resources than nature can regenerate; and creates more wastes than nature can recycle. Examples of overshoot exist all around in the form of collapsing fisheries, carbon-induced climate change, species extinction, deforestation, and the loss of groundwater in much of the world.

Worsening ecological conditions ultimately are a threat to everyone's well being, no matter how well people live temporarily while overspending nature's budget. This is our natural capital - forests, topsoil, atmosphere, freshwater and climate - on which life itself depends. Eco limits are easy to exceed for a while, as we draw on nature's reserves. Overshoot can go unnoticed, since there seem to be no apparent shortages. Water flows from taps; food appears in supermarkets, garbage disappears from curbsides, restaurants are overflowing with delicacies; new products materialize all around us; we are induced into buying more and still more…Yet consumption does not mean there are no limits. The limits are simply masked for the time being by technological advances and our ability to extract more resources with less effort.

The UAE's Footprint

The Living Planet Report examines the state of nature and resource use in 149 countries of the world, using data from 2001. National calculations assess a country's demand on nature (footprint) and the country's access to biological capacity (biocapacity), which is the amount of biologically productive space that is available for human use.

The UAE imposes a high demand on nature: to produce the food and fibre it consumes; absorb the waste from the energy it uses; and provide space for its infrastructure. Its EF is 9.9 global ha/person. In contrast, the country's biocapacity is low, measuring a mere 1.0 global ha/person. The ecological overshoot is, therefore, as much as 8.9 global ha/person. The country is not able to support its domestic consumption with its own supply of nature and, hence, imports ecological services from other places around the world.

Contributing to the UAE's large EF of 9.9 global ha/person, is its huge energy footprint amounting to 7.5 global ha/person. This is calculated as the area (of forests) required to absorb carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) are burnt. (One global hectare can absorb the carbon dioxide released from consuming 1,450 litres of gasoline per year).

The energy consumed by this country, whether for air conditioning, lighting, transport, desalination, sewage treatment or anything else, is included in its energy footprint. Also included is the energy embodied in products imported into the country and used here. The UAE is heavily dependent on imports. Since the energy used during an imported product's entire life cycle - from manufacturing, transportation and product use to disposal - is added to the nation's energy footprint, this further escalates.

Countries can offset ecological deficit (overshoot) through trade because a nation's consumption is calculated by adding imports and subtracting exports from national production. But the global Ecological Footprint cannot be offset through trade because, in the end, there is only one Planet Earth.

Nouha decides
Nouha contemplated deeply about how she could lighten her Ecological Footprint. It mattered to her because she cared for nature and wildlife; and had only just begun to realise what a negative impact her lifestyle, as also that of so many like her, was having on nature and species existing far and near.

Solutions for eliminating ecological overshoot were presented in the Living Planet Report. Increase biocapacity by protecting, conserving, and restoring ecosystems. Lower world population. Reduce per capita consumption of goods and services. Improve the resource efficiency with which goods and services are produced.

As an individual, she began to think, she could lower her consumption. Reduce meat intake for instance - a kg of meat from grain fed animals has at least four times the footprint of a kg of the grain itself! Change that gas-guzzling automobile of hers and check out car sharing with others in her neighbourhood…purchase locally or else, regionally produced products…
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·

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Prince of Persia
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who cares?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
anybody who thinks more than his lifetime ahead and above his personal well being?
 

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Prince of Persia
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well source go tell that to your big daddy the USA.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
^^ its a global problem, no point blaming one country because the effects are global, and this was 2001, so imagine today the problem with india and china that grew so fast since 2001..
also when you think what is wasted to make giant ski-domes in the desert (hint hint)
 

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Prince of Persia
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there is a point in blaming one its the usa´s fault and the rest of the world has to pay for it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
no there isnt because the impact is global, the sea rising wont affect just the usa..
 

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Prince of Persia
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no but it is the usa´s fault that the sea is rising They are driving the big ass SUV´s not the Europeans nor the asians
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
the usa also hasnt signed kyoto, ok they are a huge problem but now we have india, china, mideast, east europe - all countries that are developing with no ecological awareness and wasting energy on huge projects that are worse than what there is in the usa now.

towers with huge windows and glass facades that then take up huge energy of air conditioners..
 

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Fairouzy
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So what, the UAE's population is way less than the US, and it is a well known fact that the US is the world's largest consumer of energy. So stop blaming Ski Dubai for this problem.
 

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Prince of Persia
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Source accept it the 21st century is the century of Asia tabels have turned the world has changed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
^^ yes the century of asia, with 20% of beijing residents suffering from some sort of lung problems from air pollution..
 
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