Talking Big Foot in Yeti Land: Got a spare planet, mate?

The names Yeti and Meh-Teh are commonly used by the local people to describe the Abominable Snowman said to inhabit the deep Himalayan valleys of Nepal and Tibet. Most scientists consider this legendary ape to be part of cryptozoology – which searches for creatures said to exist but have never been documented.

But this does not take away from the allure of Yeti – it’s like the North American fascination with Big Foot.

I’m spending the week at the 4th Asia Conservation Forum in Kathmandu, organised by IUCN, the World Conservation Union. Here, we have been talking about another kind of Big Foot, and the increasingly crushing footprint that this assertive creature stamps everywhere.

This, of course, is a reference to us Homo sapiens – and the growing ecological footprint (EF) that our species is generating.

EF quantifies our demand on Nature and natural systems. It measures the amount of biologically productive land and water required to meet our demands (for food, timber, shelter), and to absorb the pollution we generate.

Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how many planet Earths it would take to support all of humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle. For example, if everyone aspires to European lifestyles, we are going to need three planets. And for American way of life, four.

As of now, the Earth is the only naturally habitable planet that we know and have.

The term and concept of Ecological Footprint were proposed in 1992 by William Rees, a Canadian professor at the University of British Columbia.[1] In 1995, Rees and coauthor Mathis Wackernagel published Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.

The Kathmandu meeting’s first substantive session, on the Future of Sustainability, heard how we are dangerously close to the Earth’s tipping point. Indian development thinker Ashok Khosla, UNEP’s regional director Surendra Shrestha and other leading analysts presented unmistakable indicators for this trend.

This resonates with a new report that came from WWF in late 2006, which concluded that our global footprint has already exceeded the earth’s bio-capacity by 25% in 2003. This meant that the Earth could no longer keep up with the demands being placed upon it.


The WWF Report has presented this graphically by sorting countries as eco-creditors and eco-debtors. Much of Asia falls into the latter category (map, below, courtesy BBC Online):

So here’s the news headline from YetiLand: we have finally met Big Foot. And it is us.

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