The ecological footprint is a method promoted by the Global Footprint Network to measure human demand on natural capital, i.e. the quantity of nature it takes to support people or an economy. It tracks this demand through an ecological accounting system. The accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use for their consumption to the biologically productive area available within a region or the world (bio-capacity, the productive area that can regenerate what people demand from nature). In short, it is a measure of human impact on the environment.
Footprint and bio-capacity can be compared at the individual, regional, national or global scale. Both footprint and bio-capacity change every year with number of people, per person consumption, efficiency of production, and productivity of ecosystems. At a global scale, footprint assessments show how big humanity’s demand is compared to what Earth can renew. Global Footprint Network estimates that, as of 2014, humanity has been using natural capital 1.7 times as fast as Earth can renew it, which they describe as meaning humanity’s ecological footprint corresponds to 1.7 planet Earths.
One way to decrease the ecological footprint, push Earth Overshoot Day back more and more each year, and create new jobs and grow the economy is to invest in renewable energy.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas are finite resources formed in the earth over hundreds of millions of years from the remains of plants and animals. From the extraction of the resources themselves to the environmental/climate impacts of their emissions on other facets of the ecosystem, fossil fuels are a major player in any place’s footprint.
Renewable energy, on the other hand, is generated from ongoing natural processes that are not depleted when used. Unlike fossil fuels, these types of energy are theoretically unlimited, and (also unlike fossil fuels) they’re clean and release little to no global warming emissions into the atmosphere.
Renewable contribute very minimally to a country, city, or town’s ecological footprint – potentially even flipping the script entirely in some places from ecological deficit to ecological reserve.
Here are three important sources of renewable energy:
- Wind – Wind power turns the kinetic energy in moving air currents into electricity using a simple technology known as a turbine. It’s actually pretty simple: The energy in wind turns the turbine’s blades, driving a generator to create electricity.
- Solar – Solar energy changes the energy of the sun’s rays into electricity or heat we can use. The photovoltaic cells that make up most solar panels convert the energy in sunlight to electricity.
- Geothermal – Geothermal energy comes from tapping into the intense heat energy contained in the rock and waters of the Earth’s crust. We use this heat to create steam to drive turbines and generate electricity or heat and cool homes and other buildings.