Should we be using ecological footprints in policy?

I’ve been waiting for this to come out for about a week now after hearing about it. It is a a critique in Plos Biology that claims ecological footprint “measurements, as currently constructed and presented, are so misleading as to preclude their use in any serious science or policy context.”

The ecological footprint idea is likely one that most of us have heard of, perhaps you’ve even taken a quiz to see how many planets we would need if everybody lived like you. We even mark World Overshoot Day each year to identify when we are exceeding the Earth’s capacity.

The article critiquing the ecological footprint idea is well worth reading. In particular, its claims about how global scale data are normalized and how the ecological space required to suck up extra carbon out of the atmosphere is conceptualized. These are the key points upon which the authors pivot – arguing that the ecological footprint measurement is flawed in both respects.

It is also important to read the response to the article; both with regard to what it answers to in the critique and what it claims about the utility for ecological footprinting for policy.

And, of course, there is the rejoinder from the authors of the critique to the response defending ecological footprinting. It is here.


  1. Donald F. says:

    An interesting debate. Also worth reading Ecological Footprint creators’ final rebuttal to PLoS author’s rejoinder:


  1. […] Laura Jane Martin has a nice piece over at Scientific Americandiscussing how the metaphor of the “ecological footprint” compares to others, say, of the “ecological handprint.” I always enjoy thinking about the sorts of issues that arise when we measure things. The ecological footprint is, of course, the metaphor for conveying a particular way of accounting in ecological terms the throughput required for certain lifestyles and, at that, one recently critiqued as I mentioned previously here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: