The Global Human Footprint Is Running Out of Globe

Image: Venter et al
The physical, geographical impact of humans on global ecosystems—what’s known as the human footprint—has grown more slowly than Earth’s human population, finds a study published this week in Nature Communications. That is, as more humans are added to the planet, the rate of increase of those humans‘ impact on the planet in terms of land use has not kept pace. The implication is that on a per-person average, humans are leaving a smaller ecological imprint now than they had been previously.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

The human footprint generally refers to land taken up by humans for urbanization and agricultural purposes. It was first measured on a global scale in the 1990s, but has apparently not been updated since then. To this end, ecosystems researcher Oscar Venter and colleagues set about creating an updated footprint measurement using existing data on built surfaces, roads, crop and pasture land, nighttime lights, and human population density.

What they found was a footprint increase of about 9 percent between 1992 and 2009. This is in contrast to an increase in the human population on planet Earth of about 23 percent. That’s a fairly dramatic improvement, but we also don’t have any data to about how this relationship has changed through other periods in history.

„The primary aims of this study are to update the original human footprint map to provide a contemporary view of human pressures, and to create the first temporally consistent maps of the human footprint, such that patterns of change over time can be analysed,“ Venter and co. write.

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