The environment has been on the political agenda since the late 1960s. Much has happened in that time, but is the planet better off? According to one popular heuristic measure of the state of the environment – the ecological footprint – things are bad and getting steadily worse. The global ecological footprint of humanity is a measure of the amount of nature it takes to sustain a given population over the course of a year. This global footprint first exceeded the Earth’s biological capacity in the late 1970s, since when it has risen steadily, overshooting by almost 40 per cent in 2005 (Venetoulis and Talberth 2006: 12). Moreover, this alarm- ing figure disguises huge disparities among the nations; for example, the per capita footprint (in global hectares) of the USA (108.95) is about seventy times that of Ethiopia (1.56) (Table 1.1). It would be wrong, however, to draw the conclusion that nothing has changed over the last forty years; in prac- tice, the picture is much more complicated, as is illustrated by the following examples.
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