Conversations on Scale: Global Footprint Network

from VOLANS:

Q&A with Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director, Global Footprint Network

By Alejandro Litovsky, Volans


Humans are the most successful species on the planet, but are using more resources than the Earth can provide. The Global Footprint Network was established in 2003 to address this overshoot, by providing ways of measuring human demand on the Earth through the use of the Ecological Footprint — a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.

The Ecological Footprint is a data-driven metric that tells us how close we are to living within the means of planet Earth – or whether we are running an ‘ecological overshoot’. Footprint accounts work like bank statements, documenting whether we are living within our ecological budget or consuming nature’s resources faster than the planet can renew them. Global Footprint Network provides the scientific data necessary to drive large-scale, social change.

GFN works with cities, nations, international agencies, leading business, scientists, NGOs, academics and a network of 100+ global partners on six continents. It is committed to advancing the relevance and use of the Footprint in the world, applying it to practical projects and sparking a global dialogue about the desirability of a one-planet future.

GFN’s aspired to a future where ministers get as worried about growing ecological deficits as they fret already about skyrocketing unemployment or inflation; and where human demand on nature is monitored as closely as the stock market. GFN works for the time when designers shape products, buildings, and cities that have one-planet Footprints.

Q: Why should GFN be important to decision-makers?

A: The 21st century will be defined by ecological overshoot and humanity’s ability to deal with it productively. In a severely resource constrained world, those countries that understand the risk, and adapt themselves early on will be the winners, since adaptation takes preparation considering the longevity of stocks: our infrastructure, populations, and industrial plants with set energy efficiencies. Hence, a good understanding of a nation’s demand (or “Footprint”) on – and availability of – biocapacity become crucial metrics for securing a country’s success.

Because financial managers and policy-makers are largely resource-illiterate, the current financial crisis is leading to rather disastrous recovery plans. Even Obama’s $800 billion plan only contains $50 billion so-called ‘green economy investments’. First of all, anything non-green is building traps and needs to be de-constructed in a few decades. We need stimulus packages to accelerate sustainability rather than to repeat the mistakes of the past. We also need to look at what is called “green” and see: “is it green enough?” Not for moral and esthetic or fundamentalist reasons, but pragmatically: Are these investments realizing the highest possible social returns on investment?

Q: What are the biggest barriers you face in scaling up the impact of Global Footprint Network?

A: The biggest limitation still is that many countries and their administrations do not recognize the resource risk. If a country is ill prepared for a resource-constrained world, a significant portion of its GDP is in jeopardy.

Instead, many countries perceive even climate issues to be merely a moral question, not a key concern –or a survival issue. Many international agencies and governments are far too timid in engaging. Still, addressing climate issues in isolation from other resources is a strategic mistake. We are moving into a ‘peak everything’ situation; A crisis of water AND food AND climate AND fisheries AND biodiversity AND oil AND etc.

continue reading at

This entry was posted in Climate Change, Livability, Shout Outs, Sustainability and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Conversations on Scale: Global Footprint Network

  1. faslanyc says:

    interesting post, though i think most biologists would take issue with the first sentence. success should at least be defined a bit more.

    It is great to know that these guys are out there becoming the intermediaries between scientists and politicians/society at large. it seems the field is nascent but fascinating and important.

    the best point for me is encouraging the development of other metrics and methods for studying these effects (in addition to the GFN). my biggest initial source of apprehension was that with only one or a few outlets studying such a complex set of issues they would inevitably make assumptions that are incorrect by orders of magnitude in addition to weilded undue influence. however, if lots of work were being done and intensive data mining and cross referencing were possible, something intelligent and useful would certainly emerge.

    hop to it, planologie!

  2. Josh Grigsby says:

    My concerns are much the same as yours. More groups, more metrics, more points of view are needed to minimize errors and omissions. Interesting that you pointed out that the definition of success is assumed by the author…I think the biggest impact of ecological footprinting and the GFN is likely to be the redefining of that very word, away from production, proliferation, and domination and toward something much more balanced, nuanced, and sustainable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s