Sustainability and the ecological footprint : comparing human demand with nature's supply
There is a growing concern that current levels of economic activity have outgrown the physical limits of the planet. In the face of global constraints, humanity continues to deplete nature, through resource harvesting and waste generation, faster than nature can regenerate itself. The UN World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) introduced the idea of sustainable development in 1987, with the release of Our Common Future. Sustainable development has since become a powerful and controversial theme, creating seemingly impossible goals for policy makers. Sustainable indicators can be a key mechanism for encouraging progress in the right direction by providing a measuring tool that gives a clearer understanding as to whether sustainability is being achieved. The ecological footprint has emerged as an innovative technique to measure the ecological dimension of sustainability. The research tests the ecological footprint as a tool for guiding humanity towards sustainability. The research establishes whether or not the ecological footprint provides an effective accounting framework for the biophysical services that a given society requires from nature. With Guernsey as the case study, the research investigates whether or not the ecological footprint is a comprehensive tool for local policy decision-making. Considering the methodology of the ecological footprint, its use for time series analysis and the development of scenarios does this. The ecological footprint is also tested for its ability to act as a tool to communicate the ideas of sustainability. In conclusion, while containing some limitations, the ecological footprint is a tool that can facilitate the comparison of policy choices society inevitably must face. At the local level, the ecological footprint is a valuable part of the sustainable indicator tool kit. The use of the ecological footprint as a communication tool for sustainable development is invaluable. It is an indicator that can be understood by the general public and one that links individual lifestyle choices to global environmental problems. The ecological footprint is only an empirical tool and in itself cannot change anything. It is a first step in a process of change and the political will and desire to change must be the driving force. Its great advantage over other sustainability indicators is that it is holistic and makes connections between different activities and impacts. However, the ecological footprint is based on assumptions as the ratios/equations calculated by others. In conclusion, the ecological footprint demonstrates that intelligent rationalisation of means and prudent moderation of ends is the only solution. By providing common ground, the ecological footprint builds bridges between different worldviews and amplifies the resonance between all disciplines working on sustainability.