By Farah Theodore
For many, the word footprints bring back memories of Cristy Lane's hit song Footprints in the sand. At least to those who are old enough to remember. Currently, the word footprints invoke a reality that may be considered as humbling as the song or as the impressions left by our feet while we tread upon the surface of the earth. It is also, a way of recognising that you as an individual matter and the choices you make affect the environment. While making your mark in the world, it is vital to consider your ecological footprint on our planet.
Ecological footprint enables us to quantify anthropogenic reverberations on nature. Such as assessing the area of land and volumes of water consumed in the production of consumer goods and the assimilation of waste generated.
Carbon footprint is another form of measurement limited to the release of carbon by human activity regardless of it being caused by an individual, community, organisation or country. It is vital to also consider the other greenhouse gases that are as significant and even more potent than carbon. These include but are not limited to: methane, CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs. Why is this important? The reality is that nature functions within a balance where the natural carbon released is counterbalanced by natural absorptions. An imbalance is created where the amounts produced anthropogenically (an estimated 26 gigatons per year) is forced to be absorbed by nature's carbon sinks in addition to the amount naturally generated.
Our water footprint is also vital to acknowledge in that everything we eat, buy, wear, sell takes water to make. It is a way to measure the volumes of water used. In this case water is categorised as blue (volume of surface and groundwater), green (rainwater) and grey (amount of water needed to adjust pollutants and maintain water quality/waste); even virtual (water we do not see). An example is you buy 1 kg of tomatoes, it took an estimated 220 litres of water to produce the tomatoes.
Item Litres of water used
1kg of bananas 800
1kg of beef 15,415
kg of chicken 4,000
1 smartphone 1,000
1 ton of cement 5,000
At present, our economic model assumes an infinite availability of resources and hence is referred to as a linear model (take, make, dispose). The reality of climate change dissolves such presumptions since the earth's resources are finite. The argument for adopting a circular economic model (make, use, return) deserves consideration. The underlying question is: what if the goods today become the resources of tomorrow? The Neo-classical/mainstream economics that we have been taught is not relevant in future economies (not that it has ever been favourable and invariably lead to bad corporate behaviour where nature was deemed a mere externality).
Nature and biodiversity underpin all life on earth – vital to our daily lives, and economic prosperity. The services nature provides are so fundamental (estimated two thirds more than global GDP) yet taken for granted; simply being clean air, drinking water and healthy food.
If knowledge truly is power, then we have no excuse for failure to act. We are the generation that knows the effects our activities have on the environment and we are the one who holds the balance literally as we barrel towards the point of no return by kicking the can down the road.
We have everything to lose and so much more to gain…that which isn't readily quantified. Living in cleaner environment, having healthier conscious lifestyles and simply being more responsible invariably means we will be more content, thankful, healthy, joyful with less threat of sickness and disease.