The ecological footprint measures human demand on nature, i.e., the quantity of nature it takes to support people or an economy. It tracks this demand through an ecological accounting system. The accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use for their consumption to the biologically productive area available within a region or the world (biocapacity). In short, it is a measure of human impact on Earth's ecosystem and reveals the dependence of the human economy on natural capital.
The ecological footprint is defined as the biologically productive area needed to provide for everything people use: fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, fibers, absorption of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and space for buildings and roads. Biocapacity is the productive area that can regenerate what people demand from nature.
Footprint and biocapacity can be compared at the individual, regional, national or global scale. Both footprint and biocapacity change every year with number of people, per person consumption, efficiency of production, and productivity of ecosystems. At a global scale, footprint assessments show how big humanity's demand is compared to what planet Earth can renew. Global Footprint Network calculates the ecological footprint from UN and other data for the world as a whole and for over 200 nations. They estimate that as of 2013, humanity has been using natural capital 1.6 times as fast as nature can renew it. Our Planet Earth is NOT ABLE to SUSTAIN these growing numbers.
Ecological footprint analysis is widely used around the Earth in support of sustainability assessments. It can be used to measure and manage the use of resources throughout the economy and explore the sustainability of individual lifestyles, goods and services, organizations, industry sectors, neighborhoods, cities, regions and nations. Since 2006, a first set of ecological footprint standards exist that detail both communication and calculation procedures. The latest version is the updated standards from 2009..
The root of many early forms of civilization, agriculture has been a primary reason for anthropization. In order to cultivate food or breed animals, land needs to be altered to support these activities. This could mean that soil is tilled or structures are built in order to facilitate the agriculture.
These activities can lead to soil erosion, pollution (pesticides, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.), and subsequently -habitat fragmentation, and overall -an increased ecological footprint. It is also worth noting that the line between agriculture and industry often overlaps, and many of these effects take place as a result of industry as well.
As well, within the last century, with any urbanized area there also needs to be roads to support transportation. This transportation is a continued source of pollution, and the roads are a large source of soil erosion.
In order to support humans, industrial buildings and processes are apparently essential. To create more urban development, and to aid agriculture, many products need to be processed, refined, or constructed. The key component to this is that in order to have factories, the materials used to create a product need to be gathered. For the wide range of products that have been created and refined in this anthropological age, there is a plethora of substances that are harvested. Many of these materials are non-renewable (e.g. fossil fuel, metal ores, etc.) and the harvest of these results in relatively permanent anthropization. For resources that are depended on in high quantity, this can also mean temporary depletion or damage to the source of the resource (e.g. depletion or pollution of fresh water reserves, improper or inefficient silviculture, etc.). Even sustainable or renewable industrial anthropization still affects the environment. While the resource in question may not be in jeopardy, the harvest and processing of this can still cause severe change and damage to the whole environment.
To power the ever-growing human race, energy is needed. Power-harvesting structures are built to harness energy, such as dams, windmills, and nuclear reactors. These sources of energy ultimately fuel the rest of anthropological activity and are essential in this way. However, many of these methods have consequences. With dams, construction aside, they can cause flooding, habitat fragmentation, and other effects. With nuclear reactors, they have a lasting effect in that typically a lifespan of one of these is around 50 years, -and afterwards, the nuclear waste needs to be dealt with and the structure itself needs to be shut down and cannot be used further. To safely dispose of this even low-level waste can take hundreds of years, ranging upwards with increased radioactivity. To produce, and -as a result of this production of energy, it requires a lot of anthropized land.
Obviously the change in population has a direct effect on the anthropological impact, but changes in technology and knowledge have greatly changed anthropization throughout the Holocene. The tools that have been developed and the evolution of the methods that humans use in order to anthropize have changed drastically. For example, the Great Pyramids in Egypt were not constructed by some large machine, instead by thousands of humans. They were still able to build massive monuments, but the efficiency, and also the environmental damage -as a result of their efforts- is much different than today. This is just an example. However, it does show that the environmental effect of modern anthropization is generally greater, not just because of the sizable increase in population when comparing today to ancient times. The pollution and loss of biodiversity was largely natural, not man-made, and the anthropization existed on a much lower level. As the over-population of the Earth continues to increase -for the foreseeable future, this anthropization will continue to evolve.