Against the Grain: the Ecological Footprint

[Editor's Note: This is a partial transcript of Against the Grain, a radio show hosted and co-produced by C.S. Soong and produced by Sasha Lilley. Against the Grain airs Monday through Wednesday on Pacifica Radio station KPFA 94.1 in Berkeley, Calif. This show originally aired on February 1, 2006, and is available as a podcast from]

C.S. Soong: Humans make demands on the planet. Our planet has a certain carrying capacity. So you might wonder how our demands on the planet's resources compare with the planet's capacity to provide those resources? Have humans gone beyond the Earth's bio-productivity, and if so, with what consequences?

Today we'll address those pressing questions and tell you about something called the ecological footprint, which can be calculated for societies, economies, and yes, individuals. Joining me in the studio is Justin Kitzes, he is a research associate at the Global Footprint Network, which promotes ecological social and economic sustainability by advancing this so-called ecological footprint.

The Global Footprint Network also puts out reports on the footprint of various global regions. We'll be talking among other thigns about their latest report on the Asia-Pacific Region, Justin, welcome to against the grain.

Justin Kitzes: Thank you, C.S. my pleasure to be here.

CS: I want to start with this notion of the carrying capacity of the earth; what does that mean?

JK: well carrying capacity is actually an interesting term. The word that we use in the ecological footprint calculations is actually bio-capacity, and so what that refers to is the amount of productivity the amount of resources the amount of waste absorption that the earth can provide for humanity in any given year. And so, to start looking at these issues of carrying capacity, we can look at the whole Earth and say how much biologically productive land is available at the global level. And what we find is there are about 11.2 billion hectares, which is pretty large number, except that of course that it's shared by about 6.5billion of us. And so if you do the math there, you find that there's about 1.8 global hectares available per person to support all of their activities each year. And a hectare is about two and a half football fields, just for a sense of scale.

It's more than just providing resources as you said, it's this land would provide natural resources in terms of food and energy sources and all this other stuff, but also as you said absorb waste, that's a key part of what we're expecting at least, nature to do.

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