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Ecological Footprint: Part 2

Submitted March 30, 2022 

As we see in the previous article, the ecological footprint (EF) is one of the criteria to calculate the impact of human activities on the environment. According to (Wackernagel et al., 1999), the ecological footprint is to “measure how much life-supporting natural capital, expressed in a biologically productive area, is necessary to meet the resource demand and waste absorption requirements of a given population”.  

As they argue, the induction of EF was innovative to make it easy to understand the effects of human activities for scientists, non-scientists, and decision-makers. At the same time, in making it simple, the calculated sources are selected and limited thus, there are some points people need to keep in mind before they use the economic footprint. 


Policy-Making Process 


This article will look at how ecological footprint could influence the policymaking process, both its benefits and drawbacks. 

Fiala (2008) notes that ecological footprint makes it possible to understand extensive growth (not intensive growth) therefore, it could be valuable as a method for raising awareness of our impact on the Earth (Moffatt, 2000).   


EF, Because of the simpleness, is easier to understand for not only general people but also for policymakers. Thus, they can “have a physical criterion for ranking policy, project or technological options according to it” (Van den Bergh, 1999) and then makes it easy to make decisions straightforwardly (Costanza, 2000). 


Moffatt also points out that people still need EF as an indicator to know their progress to a sustainable future. Some people even said it is pointless to use EF because of the uncertainness of the Earth’s ecosystems which are set below, it could be useful as an indicator to know the effect of the policies by carefully examining the uncertainties (Moffatt, 2000). 

On the contrary, some argue that policymakers should pay more attention to how EF is used because of its abstractness. Costanza (2000) highlights that even though there are those disadvantages of EF as mentioned above, sometimes the policymaker does not pay enough attention to where the dates come from, even though it could include the aggregated uncertainties, weights, and assumptions. He also emphasizes that no one knows whether the assumptions about technical progress are accurate. If it is inaccurate, that means the technology is not sustainable, and the costs of those are potentially so high.  


Van den Bergh (1999) also wonders to what extent the EF can be trusted, given that it appears that many decision-makers and environmental organizations accept it almost without question. He claims that the process of policymaking “should be guided by a number of specific criteria.” Otherwise, it will lead them down the wrong direction, resulting in unsustainable, inefficient, or even immoral policy options. 


Some also say EF is just a way to draw some attention from people, “it is pointless to argue for a direct equivalence between a region’s area and its ecological footprint” (1996, p.38). 

There are arguments for the results of EF as well. Firstly, Moffatt (2000) points out that the solutions that the ecological footprint shows are reducing populations or reducing consumption per head, which is impossible. Another argument is that most of the ecological footprint studies have a similar conclusion, due to the mobility of the people, the ecological impact of their production and consumption activities is substantial. This is because the population in the inhabited area and the capacity of people in the same region differ (Pearce and Barbier, 2000). 


The final example of EF’s uncertainty is, it suggests that if there are enough trees that can absorb CO2, it will be sustainable. However, there are simply doubts about the amount and the quality, the type or conditions of soil, the areas, and the economic cost, to plant enough trees, behind the assumption. Therefore, “Instead of fixing the sustainable energy use scenario, multiple sustainable energy use scenarios should be allowed for” (Van den Bergh, 1999). 



The ecological footprint is a vital calculation for anyone to understand the effects of human activities on the environment. It calculates complicated resources into a single number and makes the effects of human activities on the environment, including non-scientist or policymakers, understandable. 

However, EF's simplicity raises concerns about its accuracy. For example, it cannot include complicated assumptions or the accompanying backgrounds. It emphasizes land usage, disregards the passage of time, and discourages trade. 


These drawbacks demonstrate that EF is unreliable beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, there is no doubt that it can help people think about the environment more clearly. Using EF as an indicator while paying attention to the drawbacks can lead us to a more sustainable world. 



Costanza, R. 2000. The dynamics of the ecological footprint concept. Ecological Economics. 32, pp.341–345.  

Fiala N. 2008. Measuring sustainability: Why the ecological footprint is bad economics and bad environmental science. Ecological Economics. 67, pp.519-525. 

Méndez Garcı́a, J., Isabel Suárez Guerrero, A. and Guadalupe Suárez Guerrero, M. 1999. National natural capital accounting with the ecological footprint concept. Ecological Economics, 29(3), pp.375-390. 

Moffatt I. 2000. Ecological footprints and sustainable development. Ecological Economics. 32, pp.359–362. 

Pearce D. and Barbier E.B. 2000. Blueprint for a Sustainable Economy. Earthscan Publications, London, Ch 2. pp.125-129 

Van den Bergh J. C. J. M. and Verbruggen H. 1999. Spatial sustainability, trade and indicators: An evaluation of the 'ecological footprint'. Ecological Economics. 29, pp61-72. 

Wackernagel, M., Onisto, L., Bello, P., Callejas Linares, A., Susana López Falfán, I., the advantages and disadvantages of the ecological footprint

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