York measures humanity’s consumption since 1970 – it’s up 70 per cent


Expert available to comment on the ecological footprint of Canadians

TORONTO, Thursday, April 23, 2020 – It’s Earth Week. Here is a look at how we’re doing. The ecological footprint of Canadians is about 2.8 times higher than the global average and overall, the ecological footprint of human consumption has grown by 70 per cent since 1970, say York University researchers.

“Most of this growth has been in the carbon footprint component,” says Eric Miller of the Faculty of Environmental Studies and director of the team producing the National Footprint Accounts.

headshot of Eric Miller, FESYork is working with global partners at the Global Footprint Network to produce National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts which detail ecological footprint and biocapacity for all countries from 1961 to the present. Details include the components of cropland, grazing land, built-up land, forest land, fishing grounds, and the carbon footprint.

Although the current COVID-19 pandemic may have a short-lived positive ecological impact, it is too early to know.

Past economic crises, such as the great global recession of 2008 or the savings and loans crisis in the United States in the 1980s, affected the ecological footprint but only temporarily.

“These past economic crises did produce dips in the trends, but after they were over, we recovered back onto the same path of a growing footprint,” says Miller. “The quickest rebound in footprint growth was after the 2008 recession when governments around the world responded by throwing a lot of money at ‘shovel-ready’ concrete-based infrastructure projects.”

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint has been greater than the planet’s capacity to sustain it. The result has been an accumulation of carbon pollution in the atmosphere, declines in biodiversity and dramatic changes in lands and waters.

The team’s work, including York graduate students as part of their experiential learning in sustainability informatics, is empowering the Footprint Data Foundation to inform individuals, communities and government leaders to better manage limited resources, reduce economic risk, and improve well-being.

“The Earth provides us with materials and energy, ecosystems that metabolize wastes, and places to live and build infrastructure. However, this dependence can be sustained only if we use renewable natural resources at a rate that can be regenerated and emit pollution at a rate that can be metabolized by nature,” says Miller.

Data on a national and global basis, by year, and by component, are available at data.footprintnetwork.org.


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Media Contact:

Sandra McLean, York University Media Relations, 416-272-6317, sandramc@yorku.ca

Find out more about how York University is creating positive change in the COVID-19 pandemic here.