Chapter 1: Origins, diffusion and development of the Ecological Footprint
The Ecological Footprint has stimulated an enormous amount of academic and policy attention since its initial inception in the early 1990s. Van den Bergh and Grazi (2010) report that the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Knowledge delivered over 500 journal articles for ‘ecological footprint’, with an increasing trend from 2001 to 2008, while the Google search engine delivered more than 2 million hits and Google Scholar more than 14000 hits for ‘ecological footprint’. This is an impressive rate of activity since the first academic article on the concept of the Ecological Footprint was published in 1992 (Rees 1992). Initially Professor William (Bill) Rees, who along with Mathis Wackernagel (his former PhD student) is most frequently associated with the Ecological Footprint, did not use the term but instead referred to ‘regional capsule’ and ‘appropriated carrying capacity’ (Rees 1992). It was only later that Rees coined the term ‘Ecological Footprint’ when critiquing economic models of resource use, arguing that more attention should be paid to the land area required by urban areas to sustain themselves. Rees has described how he drew upon the biological notion of carrying capacity when developing the idea of an Ecological Footprint (see Gismondi 2000). Carrying capacity is typically defined as the maximum population size that can be supported indefinitely by a given environment (Hixon 2008). The term ‘carrying capacity’ is however problematic because empirically it is not a constant but will vary, for example, due to fluctuations in the climate.