DOING SOME DIGGING – Filling Big Shoes

Canada has the world's third-largest "ecological footprint," says the Federation of Canadian Municipaliti...
Canada has the world's third-largest "ecological footprint," says the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). If everyone in the world consumed at the rate Canadians do, it would take four more Earths to support them.

An ecological footprint measures the impact each person or group makes on the environment. The footprint is the biologically productive area needed to produce all the products a person or group consumes and to absorb all their waste.

A report prepared for the FCM finds that it takes 7.25 hectares of land and sea throughout the world to support each Canadian. However, the Earth has only 1.9 hectares of productive land and sea available to meet the needs of each person. By this measure, Canadians consume almost four times the Earth's capacity. In comparison, the United States has the world's second largest ecological footprint at 9.7 hectares per person. France, with a population twice the size of Canada's, has the 14th largest footprint at 5.26. The United Arab Emirates tops the list at 10.13. The world average per person is 2.28, and that might be something to shoot for.

The FCM have given us an interesting yardstick, but it is based on the size of individual cities. According to figures in the report, Toronto accounts for 16% of Canada's total ecological footprint (and 15.6% of its population); Greater Sudbury only 0.5%. Other areas of interest: Vancouver 7%, Quebec City or Winnipeg 2.2%, Halifax 1.3%, Ottawa 4.2%, Regina or Saskatoon 0.7%, and Kingston 0.5%.

Reading the report, I found no reference to total land areas of the countries examined. That led me to wonder if that figure could be factored in. Canada has a small population and a lot of ground to cover. It is a long way from Halifax to Yellowknife, Toronto to Vancouver, or Vancouver to the former Polaris mine on Little Cornwallis Island. All this travel raises the energy segment of Canada's ecological footprint. The energy segment is similarly impacted because much of this country lies in a cold climate (we must heat our buildings), and the rest of it endures an even colder one.

Let's take the land area of Canada (9.98 million km) and arbitrarily divide it into the per capita ecological footprint (7.25). That gives us a rating of 0.72, playing fast and loose with the decimal point. The same manipulation for the United States (9.70/9.63 million km) yields 1.01, or for the United Arab Emirates yields 126.63. Fiddling with the numbers for France gives a figure of 9.56. Perhaps there is some significance that can be attached to these calculations. They make me feel better about Canada's ecological footprint if only because we have a land footprint to support it.

The FCM prepared its report, not so that I could indulge in some navel-gazing, but so that Canadians will have a yardstick by which to measure the sustainability of our way of life. The report also makes useful recommendations about reducing our ecological footprint. Read it in its entirety at It is time that the idea of "sustainability" be applied to our communities as well as our industry.


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