Here is an exerpt of an article I was writing called the "Sustainable Status of America" on why the ecological foot print is inflated, and what it really shows.
The way the ecological foot print works is that it calculates how big of an area of the planet each of us needs - in "global hectacres per capita". Here is a graph of the ecological foot print from many nations
vs the human development index.
At first blush, this report would seem to refute my point - the USA is one of the least sustainable nations on the planet. However, taking a more complexed and detailed understanding unvails many interesting counterpoints. The first counterpoint I would like to point you to is the graph of footprint over time
. What you can see is that the footprint of most nations goes down, while the HDI goes up. What this means is that we are on the right track, which is better than nothing. If we project out the lines, what we see is that we should be for the most part sustainable by 2050.
After looking at the ecological footprint, I quite like the way it measures impact. However, it has one huge, IMHO, design flaw. It considers CO2 to have a physical footprint in global hectacres per capita. For example, in the graph of Switzerland
, you can see that most of the footprint is energy, I.E., CO2. If you were to ignore the CO2 requirement, you would find that Swizterland was actually sustainable (but barely). Worldwide, the carbon component of our footprint is over 54% of the foot print. The way CO2's footprint is being calculated is by taking into account the amount of CO2 captured by acres of biomass, such as forests. What this means is that it essentially calculates how big of a fuel farm we would need for the world using first generation biofuels. The results are rediculus for energy instensive countries such as the USA. This is because first generation biofuels are incredibly ineffecient - often less than 0.1% efficient at converting solar energy into useful power. A solar panel is 20% efficient. A recent IEEE report concluded that to power the world with switch-grass ethanol would require essentially the whole planet be converted into one big fuel farm. Meanwhile, solar panels essentially on our roofs could charge up all our electric cars and power our houses. This CO2 calculation pollutes the ecological footprint data with tangential information that depends on technical change.
The ecological footprint makes a good point. Our current mode of operation is unsustainable, but what it also makes clear is what our number one sustainablity priority should be: reducing CO2 emissions. Fortunately, thousands if not millions of my fellow capitalist pigs have responeded to the call. The solution, and this will be clear, is not to reduce our energy use but instead to develop new technologies to solve the problem. We have been told by environmentalists "we must change our behavior instead of wait for technological fantasy", but history has had other ideas. The whales were not saved from the whalers because activists told everyone to turn of the lights. The whales were saved because technologists and capitalsts drilled for oil. JD Rockefeller saved the whales, not Patrick Moore. CO2 will be stopped because higher fossil fuel prices are already pushing renewables - the solution is already happening, but you don't often hear about it. For example, wind power is growing at around 30% annually - a phenominal growth rate in the business world. The consequences of this growth are the colapse of off-peak electricity prices - which I hope will result in the shifting of industrial production and transportation "fuel" production to windy nights. Wind currently makes up 1.8% of our electricity. What that means is that in 15-20 years at the current growth rate, wind will make up all of our electricity production.