The ecological footprint of tourists: how to take care of nature

    20 Jun 2021

    The ecological footprint is a broad concept. This is a measure of human’s need for the planet’s ecosystems. It is an indicator that measures the “amount of nature” we use and compares it to how much “nature” actually has.

    I strongly thankful to the head of the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group NGO, zoologist Oleksiy Vasyliuk for the useful explanations of this term.

    First, this is a concept from ecological science. We all consume food, wear clothes, and there’s an area of ​​the Earth that is spent every year just to grow something for us.

    If this area is outside your country – it means that your country, in general, has a larger ecological footprint.

    And if you estimate how much food you eat every day, even if you’re vegan, imagine how much space it takes to grow all that variety of plants and animals!

    All the factories making all the items we use also need an area.

    Our ecological footprint has an area of ​​many hectares for each of us. And these hectares are directly had been stolen from nature.

    Calculations made in 2007 showed that civilizations need 1.5 times more space in the form of heterogeneous ecosystems of the planet than was available on Earth at that time.

    Each year, a so-called Earth Overshoot Day is set, which is calculated for each of the countries depending on the amount of consumption in that country. This is a day when we use as many resources of our nature as the nature of the country produces all the year. Around July every year, we, humanity, begin to live in debt for the next part of the year.

    This day is the calculated illustrative calendar date on which humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. The term “overshoot” represents the level by which the human population’s demand overshoots the sustainable amount of biological resources regenerated on Earth. When viewed from an economic perspective, the annual EOD represents the day by which the planet’s annual regenerative budget is spent, and humanity enters environmental deficit spending.

    The result of all data extrapolations and analyzed factors concluded that Earth Overshoot Day 2021 lands on July 29.

    So, humanity uses the ecological resources of the Earth faster than the planet manages to restore them. All deserts were once not deserts, all barren lands were once fertile.

    Humanity exploits mainly the nature of poor countries.

    In 2014, the global Footprint Network noted that human needs grew 1.7 times faster than the planet’s ecosystems were restored.

    In 2018, Science noted that giving up products of animal origin (including meat and dairy products) is the most significant way to reduce the overall environmental impact on Earth.

    The ecological footprint in the world is very unevenly distributed. Not only countries such as the United States and Canada are in the lead, but also Arab countries, where there is mainly sand and oil. They have a lot of money, but no natural resources to grow all the food for their needs. That’s why the Gulf countries are the absolute leaders in the ecological footprint.

    What about tourism?

    I don’t know exactly how many hectares of farmland became “not nature” because I eat plants and products of animal origin during the year. But among other parts of my ecological trail is my stay in nature when I go there – for tourism or other purposes.

    Let’s talk about the special kind of ecological footprint that appears during tourism.

    The ecological trace of tourist activity is:

    1. Direct loss of nature.

    2. Gradual degradation due to constant human pressure.

    3. Indirect consumption of natural resources through local residents.

    What should a tourist do? First of all – you’d have to cause less harm. And the second – you can actively help nature!

    Where can we make e-footprint consciously and unconsciously?

    Consciously means when tourists get involved in vandalism. In Bulgaria, in the Magura cave, tourists painted inscriptions on the walls, although archaeologists are studying ancient stone drawings of primitive people.

    What a tourist should not do with wild animals:

    • frighten animals;
    • put a camp next to burrows, nests;
    • pick up the nestlings.

    There are also more unobvious things. For example, the fragmentation of nature. For us, the forest or the steppe is one big thing. But for many species, nature is very fragmented. For example, scientists using sensors on wild cats (lynx) show that they travel little, carefully bypass all areas mastered by man.

    It would seem that nature is their home. But nature is actually smaller for them than for us. They will not go where it is noisy, where there are roads. And even more – where there’s smoke and where the fire shines.

    So it is good when tourists stop at camps where someone else has already stopped. There are already fewer animals here, and those that are, are accustomed to people coming here regularly.

    Let’s talk about other “ecological traces” of tourists in the next article.

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