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How to calculate and interpret ecological footprints for long periods of time: the case of Austria 1926-1995

Year of publication2001
Author(s)Helmut Haberl
Co-authorsKarl-Heinz Erb, Fridolin Krausmann
JournalEcological Economics
Magazine No.Number 38
Publication typeJournal, booklet
In this paper it is presented calculations of the ecological footprint (EF) for Austria 1926-1995, based upon three different methodological approaches. Basically, EF calculations convert the use of selected materials in a country into the area needed to sustain this material flow. Therefore, biological productivity essentially determines the outcome of EF calculations, given a certain pattern of socioeconomic metabolism. In most EF calculations published thus far, material and energy flows are converted to area (hectares) using global yields of the respective year. In contrast, in this paper it is analyzed the effect different assumptions on yields have on the results of EF calculations .The EF is intended to serve as a comprehensive indicator for ecological sustainability which aims at determining "to what extent (human) load is within the present regenerative capacity of the biosphere, or in other words, to what extent humanity lives within the interest of the natural capital". Basically, any EF calculation tries to assess how much biologically productive area is needed to produce the yearly resource flows consumed by the population of a region to absorb wastes or emissions and to host the built infrastructure in this region. Area use is an important process with respect to sustainable development that should be monitored.