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Reducing your ecological footprint

Wild animals and wild places may seem far away from your day-to-day life, but the actions we take at home can have a global impact. The sum of our individual decisions can actually change the environment around us.

How can we start to think about the actions we take that affect the environment? The concept of an ecological footprint is one way to visualize the impact we have. A person’s ecological footprint is the amount of land and water required to sustain their lifestyle. The ecological footprint takes into account the land needed to produce the resources we consume and to absorb the waste that we produce. How much land is required to make the food you eat or the things you buy? How much land would it take to absorb all of your carbon emissions? According to the Global Footprint Network, the average ecological footprint for Georgia residents is 17 acres, which is about the same size as 13 football fields!

If each resident of Georgia were to use up 17 acres of space, there wouldn’t be much room left for anything else. And your footprint doesn’t just crowd out Georgia native animals. The impact of our actions can be felt all around the world. 

But it’s not just about the thermometer – animal populations often struggle to adapt to their rapidly changing environments. In the wild savannas of Africa, for example, higher temperatures lead to a higher rate of water evaporation. These drought-like conditions affect food availability for animals like giraffes and zebras, which has consequences throughout the food web. Changes in the atmosphere also favor woody plants, which might eventually overtake the iconic grasses of the savanna and transform the landscape into a forest. 

But there’s good news! There are so many actions that you can take to reduce your ecological footprint. Your diet has a big impact on your ecological footprint. Avoiding red meat, even once a week, can significantly reduce the amount of land it takes to produce your food. Shopping for locally grown food also reduces the distance and the energy required to get your food on your plate. You can think about other things that you buy as well, such as furniture, clothes and electronics. It takes a lot of energy to manufacture new things, so make an effort to buy products designed to last. If you do want to build a new wardrobe or redecorate your room, try shopping at thrift stores to reduce waste and decrease the demand for new products.

There are many calculators online that can help you figure out what your ecological footprint is, such as this one from the Global Footprint Network. Learn more about what contributes to your own ecological footprint, and discover ways to reduce it to help protect animals and habitats all around the world!
Katharine Walls
Supervisor of Adult Volunteers

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl