Researchers say tracking ecological footprint is critical

York University researchers are leading the push to assess the ecological footprint as an indicator of environmental health and sustainability in Canada.

"Our impact on the environment needs to be tracked as closely as our economy," says York University Professor Peter Victor (right), co-chair of the Ecological Footprint Workshop, a meeting of experts which began yesterday and continues today at York’s Keele campus.

"We have a whole host of economic indicators, but few good indicators of sustainability," says Victor.

The workshop, commissioned by Statistics Canada, will examine the conceptual soundness, methodology and relevance of the ecological footprint. The ecological footprint measures the area of biologically productive land and water needed to provide natural resources and services to support us. By comparing this area with the area of biologically productve land available, the ecological footprint offers a means of determining whether our activities are environmentally sustainable. The workshop will address the question of how effectively it does this.

Ecological footprint developers, University of British Columbia Professor William Rees, and Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of the Global Footprint Network, will participate alongside two dozen experts from Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.

Current estimates of the global ecological footprint suggest that humanity’s ecological footprint already exceeds the Earth’s biological capacity. At the national level, Canada is one of very few developed countries with an ecological footprint that is less than the country’s biological capacity, but the gap is closing fast according to estimates produced by the Global Footprint Network.

"For decades now we’ve been trying to develop environmental indicators, and this is the one that has really captured the attention of the public. There’s a real opportunity for Canada to take leadership in this area, but we need first to be certain that the ecological footprint is both sound and relevant," says Victor. "That’s why this workshop is so important. It offers the chance for a diverse group of experts to sit together and discuss its strengths and weaknesses."

To learn more about the global ecological footprint, click here