OAKLAND, Calif.– A new analysis of the Bay Area’s ecological impact by Redefining Progress, done in conjunction with the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities, shows that the Bay Area relies on the equivalent of more than 146 million acres to sustain itself. This area is nearly the size of the states of California and Oregon combined.
The Ecological Footprint accounts measure the use of nature by humanity. A population’s Ecological Footprint index is the biologically productive area required to produce the resources and absorb the wastes of that population. Since people use resources from all over the world, Ecological Footprint accounts add up the extent of these areas by converting the resources used by a population into land area – wherever those resources may be located on the planet. Nearly all things consumed by humanity require land area to produce them, as well as energy to transform them into food, products, and services. Fossil fuel-based energy production requires land area to sequester the associated carbon dioxide emissions.
Footprints can be compared to the biological capacity of a region. If more resources are taken from nature than nature can renew, the natural capital on which we depend is eroded. Even though the Bay Area can be proud of its smaller than average footprint, it is vitally important that we continue to seek ways to make our lifestyles and consumption patterns more sustainable and live within our planet’s limited capacity.
Bay Area residents have an Ecological Footprint that is approximately 14 percent smaller than that of the average American. The region’s per capita Footprint is 20.9 acres, while the rest of the nation has an average Footprint of 23.6 acres per capita. If everyone lived like a resident of the Bay Area, we would need a more than four and one-half Earths to sustain them. The full report can be found at www.regionalprogress.org.
Major contributing factors to the Bay Area’s Footprint include the use of fossil fuels, in the form of gasoline consumed in commuting and transporting goods, electricity for heating, lighting and manufacturing, and deforestation to produce building materials. In addition, the consumption of processed and packaged foods transported from outside the region requires extensive energy resources as well as crop land.
“San Francisco County’s overall Footprint is the smallest in the region,” said Dahlia Chazan, author of the report, “but this accounts only for residents, not those who commute into the county from other areas. The relatively smaller size of San Francisco’s Footprint is largely due to its high levels of transit ridership and efficient land use patterns.”
President of the Association of Bay Area Governments and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty highlights how local governments can help reduce the region’s Footprint. “Even though we believe we are doing better than the rest of the country in terms of conserving open space and promoting compact development, sometimes called Smart Growth, the nine counties of the Bay Area still can do a better job. The Ecological Footprint is a tool that counties and cities can use in order to better understand the ecological impacts of their planning decisions. Smart Growth is not only good business, it needs to become a way of life in the Bay Area: jobs near housing, public transit and protected greenbelts. Counties and cities can make this happen.”
Some parts of the region have smaller individual components of their overall per capita Footprints. This suggests that progress is being made in incremental steps throughout the nine counties, and also indicates that communities can find models from around the region to guide the move towards greater sustainability.
Of the nine counties in the Bay Area, Marin County is leading the way in utilizing the Ecological Footprint Accounts as a measure of progress. “We have found that presenting the Ecological Footprint in the first chapter of our general plan update provides a compelling context for the need to plan more sustainable communities,” said Alex Hinds, Community Development Agency Director.
Redefining Progress recently released the 2004 Footprint of Nations report (available at www.redefiningprogress.org ), which showed that the world’s wealthiest nations are mortgaging the future at the expense of today’s children, the poor, and the long-term health of the Earth. Through excessive consumption of non-renewable resources, particularly fossil fuels, a handful of wealthier countries are depleting global reserves at a faster rate than ever before. These wealthy nations are continuing to grow their economies by exploiting the resources and economic potential of their impoverished neighbors.
The full report on the San Francisco Bay Area’s Ecological Footprint can be downloaded from www.regionalprogress.org. Redefining Progress has calculated Ecological Footprints for over 130 countries and numerous regions as well as an increasing number of municipalities and businesses. Individuals can calculate their own Footprint (in seven languages for 60 countries) at www.myfootprint.org .
Redefining Progress, a 501(c)3, non-profit organization is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2004. Redefining Progress works with a broad array of partners to shift the economy and public policy towards sustainability.
Contact: Melissa Haynes of Redefining Progress, 510-444-3041 ext. 305 or [email protected]; Web: www.regionalprogress.org