December 12, 2016

Eco-Footprint Overshoot

In my lifetime, human consumption of resources has exceeded the productive capacity of our planet.

Everyone has an ecological footprint. We all need to use the earth’s resources to survive. But some of us are wearing ridiculously large, floppy clown shoes while others have existed forever in tiny slippers.

One average Canadian footprint is the same as that of 12 average Ethiopians. How big a footprint is too big? How much is too much? 

Since the 1980s we have been living unsustainably by draining stocks of "natural capital" faster than nature can replenish them. It is a fatal mistake to think we can take more resources than the earth can provide, and do so indefinitely. We have been doing so for about 3 decades now, and the rate of overshoot is getting faster with each passing year.

The size of a person’s eco-footprint depends on many factors. Do you grow your own food? Do you walk or drive to places? Do you use renewable or non-renewable energy sources? Is that a rice and bean dish I see on your plate? What kind of climate do you live in?

These factors, and so many more, make a difference in the amount of resources required to sustain our lifestyle, and therefore the size of our footprint.


Average number of productive acres the Earth provides per person (each human's eco-footprint "fair share"), not leaving anything left over for other living things - 4.5 acres

Average amount per person if we include the needs of other living things - 1 acre 

Average global footprint per person  - 5.6 acres


In an age of ecological overshoot, having a smaller footprint is more desirable, so I have listed countries starting with those with the smallest footprint.

Afghanistan - 0.75 acres

Bangladesh - 1 acre

India - 2 acres

Ethiopia - 2.4 acres

Iraq - 3 acres

China - 4 acres

Mexico - 6 acres

Turkey - 6.7 acres

Russia - 11 acres

New Zealand - 12 acres

France - 12 acres

Germany - 12.5 acres

United Kingdom - 13 acres

Spain - 13.4 acres

Netherlands - 15 acres

Australia - 17 acres

Canada - 22 acres

United States - 24 acres

We need to reduce our lifestyle shoe size in so-called "developed" societies. Ecological overshoot can not go on forever without degrading the environment to the point of mass extinctions. Either we need to reduce our population, or reduce our ecological footprints. Preferably both.

Of the two, reducing our consumption of Earth's resources is probably the more attainable solution. If resource depletion is the problem, reducing our demands on those resources is the answer. I think this can be done while positively affecting one's overall quality of life.

It makes me wonder. Does the size of a person's ecological footprint transmit to happiness and contentment in life? Are humans in North America happier than humans in countries with a smaller average eco-footprint? Or does a larger footprint just mean a larger amount of waste and useless excess?

Live softly, and leave a small footprint. That would be the best holiday gift possible if you are considering getting something for Mother Earth this season, and year round.


  1. Anonymous12/13/2016

    There was a BBC report today saying that cod stocks in the north sea will decrease due to warming seas. The did not raise any alarm or consider ecological impact. Instead they said that the traditional cod and chips would need to be replaced with squid and chips. That's how serious the BBC is taking global warming. Please humanity stop eating fish and yes fish is bad for health.

  2. I'd rather wear tiny slippers than floppy clown shoes! This is sadly a very informative article and list. It gets me thinking and motivated to do more further reducing my footprint.

    With capitalism on steroids raging into the next 4 years in the U.S., I can only imagine what this list will look like. Will we even recognize our homeland, our earth?

    Alex, maybe cod stocks are reducing in the North Sea not only because of warming seas but from overfishing. Fish oil supplements are very popular in the U.S. I question motives of all mainstream media as I know you do. In solidarity with you on their denial of reality.

    1. Anonymous12/14/2016

      Fishing is a huge problem. Cod liver oil is just getting more return from the fish and they have to think up some tenuous research saying fish oil is healthy. Funny, since the beginning of time humans needed to catch and process deep-sea fish.

      Wow, what is going on in the US is deeply worrying with fast food, big energy and the military industrial complex finding there latest stooge.

  3. Anonymous12/14/2016

    Cat owners who feed their pets with fish are contributing to overfishing and threatening fish stocks worldwide, say Australian researchers. Reports from Deakin University say the global cat food industry consumes nearly 5.5 billion pounds of forage fish that comprise a critical part of the food chain for larger fish, plus sea mammals and birds. The fish include sardines, capelin, anchovy and herring.
    And pampered cats eat far more fish than people do. In Australia, each pet cat consumes an estimated 30 pounds of fish per year, well above the human per capita consumption of 24 pounds; seafood consumption in the U.S. is roughly 16 pounds per person. The Australian study says the global pet food industry is increasingly marketing luxury fish products that contain a significant amount of fish that may be suitable for human

    Frightening? Saffron=Australia

  4. This is interesting. Why do we have such a massively increased eco footprint since say the mid 1980s (my childhood)? I can guess that we use cars much more now. And...? In my memory, things seemed simpler back then, in that we only had one car per family, walked or biked to school, didn't have anything like the selection of toys and clothes available. Everyone seemed to be pretty equal in their income level too...the disparity between the haves and have nots wasn't anything like as big as it is now. What has happened to us? :(


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