Winthrop students learn to lessen ecological footprint on Earth

Dr. Marsha Bollinger
Dr. Marsha Bollinger holds up the Common Book “The Boy Who Harnassed The Wind,” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer as part of her presentation about the differences between the ecological footprints of The United States and Malawi. Photo by Casey White •

The United States has one of the highest recorded ecological footprints out of every country on Earth, while Malawi has one of the world’s lowest. Comparisons between these two countries have been common on Winthrop’s campus, because this year’s Common Book, “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind,” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer details the life of Kamkwamba while living in Malawi.

Dr. Marsha Bollinger, geology professor, spoke to students and faculty in Dina’s Place on ecological footprints and their impact on the planet. She tied her speech in with the common book by comparing the ecological footprints of the United States to that of Malawi.

Bollinger said that a country’s ecological footprint measures the supply and demand of the resources within that country. The supply in terms of ecological footprints is called biocapacity, which measures what nature can provide on an annual and renewable basis. The demand is called the footprint and is measured by calculating a country’s population, consumption per person, resource use and waste intensity. According to Bollinger, the footprint in this situation can be quite damaging.

“When I think of the footprint, I think of stomping on something,” Bollinger said. “It’s not necessarily a good thing.”

The United States has an average biocapacity, but an extremely high ecological footprint. The average of every country on Earth creates a demand of 150 percent of the world’s supply. That means that in order to sustain the demands of Earth there would need to be a supply even to 1.5 Earths.

Bollinger conducted a survey in Geology 101 classes that determined that the average Winthrop student would need 3.8 Earths to satisfy their demand, and Bollinger herself said that she would require 4.2 Earths. This demonstrates the high demand the United States has compared to other countries that bring the world average down.

The ecological footprint is not directly related to the Human Development Index but many countries that are highly developed have an increase in demand. For some countries this works, because they have a high supply, but for the United States the supply is not high enough to meet those demands. Malawi has a relatively low demand and a low supply, and the country is ranked low on the Human Development scale.

According to Bollinger, the goal of every country is to work towards bettering both their human development and lowering their ecological footprint.

“High human development within the Earth’s limits,” Bollinger said. “That’s our real goal.”

Human development is a difficult task for African countries like Malawi, while bigger countries like The United States have already met their goals. So the United States task, Bollinger said, is to lower its ecological footprint.

The best ways for individuals living in the United States to do so includes eating local food products, consuming less protein from meat, eating less processed food, consuming less and buying less unnecessary items, living in houses that use less resources and using public transport more frequently among many others. In order to make some of these changes there are certain societal impacts that prevent some lessening of ecological footprints, like the need for electricity.

Bollinger admits that it is a difficult, but important task for people, including herself, to take steps towards lowering their individual ecological footprint in order to lower the ecological footprint of the United States and the world.

Casey White

Casey is a former Science & Tech Editor for The Johnsonian. He graduated from Winthrop University in Fall 2014. He currently a reporter at The Shelby Star in Shelby, NC.

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