Florida's Ecological Footprint


A 'footprint' is a measure of sustainability.  It is a factor of population and consumption such that high population levels can be sustainable if consumption is low.  The term 'overpopulation' thus takes into account consumption levels.

Although a footprint is only a rough estimate, it is nonetheless, a starting point to analyze sustainability of a people in an area.  The experts estimate the sustainable Florida population ranges from 2.6 million to 10 million.

Florida's 2000 population was 16 million. Florida's Department of Community Affairs has already approved Growth Management Plans that could eventually top 101 million. With a 2.35% population growth rate, Florida  will double in 30 years.  Florida is already grossly overpopulated and will continue to become more overpopulated and less livable if significant Congressional action is not taken soon to reduce immigration and to determine a national population policy based on sustainable numbers.

For the Ecological Footprints of Nations visit: www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/footprint_for_nations

From Ed Lytwak, Senior Researcher for Negative Population Growth

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations on Florida's population based on its carrying capacity as defined by Wackernagel's "ecological footprint." I could write a dissertation on the problems inherent in coming up with a specific number, but I'll keep it brief with the understanding that if you use the number, be sure to include the following disclaimers:

*an optimum population differs from this figure in that it makes value judgments regarding quality of life, levels of consumption and standard of living, amount of environmental resources preserved for other species, etc. The following numbers are based on current per capita consumption and available ecological resources and represent a maximum (albeit) crude carrying capacity. An optimum population in almost all cases would be somewhat less than the maximum sustainable capacity (this is especially important given the approximate nature of these calculations)

According to Andrew Ferguson, of Britain's Optimum Population Trust, in The Carrying Capacity and Ecological Footprints of Nations Part II (based on the work of William Rees, Mathis Wackernagel, David Pimentel and Robert Engelman of Population Action International): At our current standard of living U.S. resources could support 199 million people.

According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population as of July 1, 1997 was 267,636,000 people and Florida's population was 14,654,000. Thus, Florida has about 5.5 percent of the U.S. population. 5.5% of 199,000,000 = 10,945,000. That is, this is the size of Florida's maximum carrying capacity based on the ecological footprint of the U.S. at our current standard of living and available environmental resources within the U.S. (not just Florida).

Ferguson makes an interesting argument that if CO2 emissions are to be brought down to a 'safe' level (i.e. one necessary to reduce the global warming effects of human economic activity) with each country having equal per capita emissions rights, then U.S. population would need to be reduced to 106 million and Florida's share would be 5,830,000.

Another figure derived directly from Wackernagel, et al., Ecological Footprint of Nations: How Much Nature Do They Use? How Much Nature Do They Have?: To support our current standard of living (consumption) the average American needs 10.3 hectares of ecologically productive land. The U.S. has 6.7 hectares of bio-capacity available per capita. Thus our ecological deficit is 3.6 hectares per person (consumption is 54% higher than available bio-capacity). Based on these figures, to live within the bio-capacity of the U.S. we would need to reduce our population by 54%. Thus, at our current standard of living, Florida's population would need to be reduced by a corresponding 54% to 6,699,440.

From David Pimentel, Professor of Agriculture at Cornell University, Author

I have estimated that the optimum population for the United States should range between 100 and 200 million. If we divided these estimates by 50 states, Florida's portion would range from 2 to 4 million. However, because Florida has more water and cropland resources than the average state, perhaps Florida's portion of the population might be larger than the 2 to 4 million. To obtain a better estimate would require some work.

I recently saw an estimate on the rate of population growth in Florida and it projected a doubling in the not too distant future--I hope that is not true.

From Dr. David E. LaHart, Florida State University, Energy & Environmental Alliance

Re: Optimum Population--Around 1976-78, the Florida Division of Planning gave the University of Florida a very large contract to come up with the carrying capacity of Florida.

Earl Starnes was involved, Art Marshall was involved and dozens of others. The League of Women Voters were involved in part of the efforts.

There were several publications that came out of the initiative. One was titled "Florida: 10 Million" one focused only on central Florida and another focused on the Green Swamp area.

As far as energy and population goes, I have neither the time or the interest to write something so abstract. As long as we are paying $1 a gallon for gas and 8 cents for a kWh of electricity, energy supply is not a real issue except to those of us who think we should leave some energy dense fuels for future generations. H. T. Odum's new book, Environment and Society in Florida, has a good chapter near the end on population and carrying capacity and he claims that water, not energy will be the limiting factor!

From Craig Diamond, Chief, Environmental Planning, Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department

Regarding David Pimentel's estimates on population: That number is consistent with numbers generated by H.T. Odum, Mark Brown and myself at different times using different, more or less refined data, but the equivalent methodology. I believe I reported a number of about 2,600,000 or so at the carrying capacity workshop that Sierra organized in North Dade about five years ago---in effect 1/6 of the standing population.

These carrying capacity/population estimates were solicited for a presentation at the FSP Conference at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Oct. 1998.