Ecological Handprints

By Eva Lewandowski

I recently heard the term ecological handprint for the first time.  As a conservation biologist and environmental educator, I’ve been using and thinking about the term ecological footprint for years, but the concept of an ecological handprint was new to me, and I find it very appealing.

Ecological footprints help people understand the impact that their actions are having on the world, but they do so in a largely negative fashion.  They consider the way your food, housing, travel, and other lifestyle choices impact the Earth’s ecosystems and resources.  Many footprint calculators are available to help you gauge your own impact, and they often report your footprint in terms of the number of Earths that it would take to allow everyone on the planet to live your lifestyle.

In contrast, ecological handprints represent the positive impact that we can have on the natural world.  You can raise your ecological handprint by volunteering with a conservation organization, purchasing local foods, conserving water, reducing waste and much, much more.

Ecological handprints are not just about humanity’s impact on the environment; they should take into account the Earth and all its inhabitants, including humans.  By finding solutions to poverty, starvation, and disease that are both socially and environmentally sustainable, we can enlarge our ecological handprint in ways that are not possible if we overlook the basic needs of the billions of people on this planet.  Issues of social justice and human rights should be considered alongside the rights and needs of the planet and the species with which we share it.

This is a fairly new concept that is still gaining momentum, but I believe that it can provide a positive and realistic framework for evaluating our own sustainability and lifestyle choices.  Paired with the idea of the ecological footprint, the ecological handprint has the potential to be a powerful tool for teaching and discourse.

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