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How much of a foot print can each human have?  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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So, what is the sustainable size of footprint (land area) for each human? Also, how do we define footprint? (Let's leave carbon footprint out of this for now.)

How much land can we each use for food, shelter, clothing, artifacts, transportation, waste processing, and fuel?

And how do we define footprint? For instance, California hunter gatherers had a density of 2 people per square mile, and they "used" most of that area. Were their footprints half a square mile each? Or do diffuse footprints count for less?

How do we equalize the discussion? For instance, somebody who burns fossil fuels needs some many acres of trees to absorb this carbon. Somebody who heats with wood needs so many acres of trees to burn. Somebody who heats with electricity from a solar panel needs so many acres of lithium and copper mine. Are all these acres equal? I would say not since the woodlot if harvested carefully will have a lot of habitat, but the lithium mine will not.

So many similar questions.

And much research seems to indicate we need half of earth in wildlife refuges. Does this mean half of all arable land, or can we leave nature the unarable half? Where does Antarctica and the Sahara count into this? I would assume they would mean half the arable land.

We are at 7.4 billion people, let's just say 8 billion. There are 36806399930 acres of land area on earth. We currently use half of this, more or less, for food production as pasture/ range-land and cropland. We will leave the other half out of the question, since is seems to be needed for biosphere maintenance. So, 2.3 acres per person.

Can we fit everything into that 2.3 acres? I assume the whole area is at least marginally habitable, since they are all being used to grow crops. If we can met all our needs on them, we can stop cutting trees, mining stuff, and hunting on the other 50%, leaving it under the control of the UN as a permanent wild land or park.
 
Tyler Ludens
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"Our current global situation: Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year.

It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.

We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources. Overshoot is a vastly underestimated threat to human well-being and the health of the planet, and one that is not adequately addressed."

http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/footprint_basics_overview/
 
Gilbert Fritz
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It almost looks like that link does not take into account that some of the carbon sink, say, might be part of the pasture land as well; in other words, there is an overlap. In any case, I'd rather keep this thread about the land surface footprint, since permaculture growing methods would take up the carbon part of it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think this is incredibly complicated. Climate factors are central, I think. A person in a warm, moist climate would not need as much land as a person in a cold, dry climate.
 
Steve Farmer
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and depends how the land is used. A person might be using no till on 2 acres and be building soil over their lifetime. Another person might be using 2 acres and growing a monocrop leaving the soil poorer at their death than it was at their birth. Do they have the same "footprint"

Another person might be doing 100,000 miles of flights per year and growing nothing but teaching thousands of people how to use their land 3 times more efficiently. How big is that person's footprint?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Steve Farmer wrote:and depends how the land is used. A person might be using no till on 2 acres and be building soil over their lifetime. Another person might be using 2 acres and growing a monocrop leaving the soil poorer at their death than it was at their birth. Do they have the same "footprint"


If everyone lives like the average American, we'd need 5 Earths. We can't live like Americans on 2 acres.

I was figuring this discussion is about living as permaculturists, how much land can each human have?
 
Steve Farmer
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there were some biosphere experiments where people lived in environments that were isolated as much as practically possible and tried to contain nutrient cycles and water cycle within the environment. These would be a good place to start to find out how much space a very careful and efficient human could live on.
 
r ranson
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So, we are talking 'footprint' as in how much land to sustain a human with basic needs and reasonable comfort? Not how much land does each human need to tend to themselves personally?
 
Tyler Ludens
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As I mentioned in the Critters thread, we can't only calculate for human footprint on the land, we need to take into account if the human use is allowing for needed local ecosystem services such as watershed and local climate, and endemic animals and plants. We can't just say these are being taken care of by some nature preserve somewhere.

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Yes, that's why I set it up so half the land area is set aside for wildlands, with no human use whatsoever. (I'm of the opinion that some light hunting, gathering, and woodcutting in wildlands would be OK, but I'm excluding it for this thought experiment. So what we have left is 2.3 acres. That has to include transportation, public spaces such as churches, sport fields, town halls, museums, and shops, as well as the more usual food, housing, etc. It obviously can't be all in once place, but that is OK.

What we need to figure out is, what can fit on these 2.3 acres? What do we have to leave out? And it doesn't have to be wild land, since we already set aside a lot of that.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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As far as local ecosystem services, I think that the 50% wild land should be partially in large, distant reserves, but partially in small, localized reserves, to provide for watershed, pollination, etc.

Also, permaculture landscapes should provide some of this, one would hope.

And yes, the amount would very depending on climate. But we have to make it fit, no matter where they are.

I'm going to check my math to make sure I got the figures right.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Gilbert Fritz wrote: That has to include transportation, public spaces such as churches, sport fields, town halls, museums, and shops


Used to be, except sports fields and town halls, those things were in peoples' houses. We might choose to have some of them, such as some museums, be more public, but church meetings and shops can certainly be in people's homes as they once were in many places in the past (and now).

Have you looked at Chapter 14 in the Designers Manual? The whole chapter is about how to design permaculture societies, villages. And there's a lot of village and home design throughout the book, for different climates.

Appropriate design for communities is a large subject, probably too large for a thread. Without any knowledge about appropriate design, I don't know how we could figure out what appropriate amounts of land might be for specific human uses such as sports fields!





 
Gilbert Fritz
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I goofed up. It is actually 5.9 acres, leaving half the earth wild. Though as I'm reading Tending the Wild, I'm coming to the conclusion that all of California was actually a huge garden . . . more about that in the Human niche thread.

Tyler, I did read the DM, but that was a few years ago, and I didn't find it a user friendly book. I will have to get it out and read it again.

Shops below houses is the way to go.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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So I know we can and should defer to expert opinion, but I like giving things a stab myself first. So let’s run through this. We have six acres per person. What will we do with it?

I’m going to look at this from a temperate moderately wet perspective. This will be lower then needed in the far North or the Desert, higher then needed in the tropics. So it should balance out.

First and most obvious, the built environment. Let’s be generous and give everyone an acre for a house, sheds, outbuildings, their share of the roads and parking lots (1/10 of an acre per person in the USA, though much of that could be depaved) and public buildings.

Then food raising. An acre per person should be plenty. An intensive garden of vegetables and potatoes, and a food forest/ orchard which is more extensive but resilient. It also provides beauty and habitat.

Fuel; there are widely different opinions online as to how many cords of wood can be sustainably take from an acre of forest. A rocket stove can heat a building with 2 cords of wood a year. More then one person should inhabit a building. So let’s talk a low estimate of half a cord a year per acre, and give each person an acre of woodland. This also provides habitat and protects watersheds.

Mining should be unnecessary with all metals recycled.

Recreation should be a snap with half the earth in protected status, and a garden full of plants.

Other; clothing, crafts, furniture, charcoal for cottage industries, feedstocks, paints, lime etc. Most of this could come from managed woodland; so we will give each person another 2 acres.

Now we are left with an acre over per person. This could cover shortfalls, be used for even more habitat, or raise animals if we don’t go vegan. Even if we did, we would probably raise some animals for transport; so the remaining acres 8 million acres, pooled together, could partially be used to raise some livestock. (Though some livestock could probably forage in the forests.)

So there we have a world which is half protected wilderness, and the remaining half largely trees, inhabited by 8 billion happy people; it wouldn’t be the American dream, but who wants that anyhow!
 
Tyler Ludens
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8 billion supposes the current population has stabilized, which it hasn't. I think the usual projection is 10 billion before it stabilizes, but we can speed this up by doing what we can to encourage full human rights for women and to encourage and support family planning.

http://www.populationconnection.org/resources/health-human-rights/
 
Tyler Ludens
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Also I think your numbers might be too high: "the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of 'natural capital'"[56]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint
 
Tyler Ludens
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2.1 hectares is a little over 5 acres, so if we set half of the bioproductive land aside for ecosystem services, that leaves 2.5 acres per person for all human purposes that require bioproductive land. Since we can't have our non-living structures off in Antarctica or somewhere, we have to fit all human purposes onto that 2.5 acres per person (actually less because of the increasing population).

Or risk extinction.

 
Gilbert Fritz
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But I'm wondering if "Eco-footprint" includes carbon sink land? In which case, wild areas would count in that. In fact, I pretty sure that eco footprint would include carbon sink areas for burnt fossil fuel. Assuming we were not burning as much fossil fuel, I think our Eco-footprint would go down. In other words, eco footprint and land footprint might not be the same.
 
Tyler Ludens
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The bioproductive land is the land which can be a carbon sink. So the 2.1 hectares includes the carbon sink land, at least half of which must be left to ecosystem services, not human purposes.

There is carbon sequestered in rock but that's not relevant to the kind of timeframes we're talking about.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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But, we currently live on about half the earth's land surface area. If we could bump up the carbon storing ability of "our half" where would the problem come in? In other words, except for the carbon storing shortfall, we only are using half the surface area. E. O. Wilson seems to advocate setting aside areas such as the Rocky Mtns. where are currently wild, and less suitable as farmland.

Out 50% wild does not have to be our main carbon sink; maybe our farmland can be our main carbon sink. As I understand it, our 50% wild is for protecting top carnivores and other such species. I would also might quibble with what lands they left out as not productive; many if not all deserts are human artifacts and can be re greened. Of course, any ice caps, all of Antarctica, and some deserts have to be taken off.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Help me run through this hypothetical scenario. There is a planet far, far away. It is mostly composed of ocean. However, there are two continents, on opposite sides of the globe. Each hosts a very different ecology and two very different human populations, but are identical in size; each are 2 billion acres.

Since the inhabitants of this world are ecologically savvy, half of each continent has been left entirely wild, with no human impacts, other then an occasional hike. Top carnivores and fragile butterflies are common. In addition, all the inhabited land is full of wild species of the more robust types.

Continent 1 has a population of 66,666,666, each living on the resources of 15 acres a piece.

Continent 2 has a population of 250,000,000, living on the resources of 4 acres a piece.

Both populations live in sustainable houses and have zero carbon emissions. Neither pollutes the local rivers, the ocean, or anything else.

C1 people have some meat in their diet; the inhabitants of C2 are dietary vegans.

The people of C2 have no desire for eating meat; as a matter of fact, their ocean is full of vast whirlpools, which makes contact of any sort difficult.

All the people are as happy as people ever are.

Is there anything unethical or immoral about this scenario? I might be missing something.

Please remember, this scenario has very little relevance to anything in the current world; it is a thought experiment.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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The only ethical argument I can see in your scenario, Gilbert, is the one of animal welfare [which is a huge issue in our modern industrial meat system.]

In my own opinion if the animals are raised in a happy environment and meet a quick and clean end, it's totally ethical. But that's not an opinion shared by everyone.
 
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