Impact? big question…big answers!
Footprint thinking needs to be converted to something less ambiguous. What we need to have is a net positive impact on our ecosystem. This is very possible in smaller towns and communities with the scale of knowledge and technology we have to work with if we can wrap our minds around the total-system-think. A net positive impact is a footprint smaller than zero.
Cities are a bigger challenge than rural towns, and will obviously require even more elaborate analysis, technology innovation and a larger regional impact assessment. A positive impact is still possible, if we don’t count the “footprint” of the actual city. What I mean is, cities can be as rich in green, and natural production systems as the minds involved can create, but will still be a human dominated living space and therefore a “footprint”. The support lands around a city need to be especially well supported by technology, stewardship, and clean nutrient cycling; and they too will likely have some degree of footprint since they need to be net producers for the city. The margins of the cities support lands, however, can be regions of exceptional land stewardship, achieving net footprints of less than zero because those inhabiting the rural lands can increasingly build up the damaged ecosystems in the new paradigm, rather than the more common “pillaging effect” of the current paradigm.
Implicit in the word “footprint” is a net drawdown of the ecosystem to make room for people. Symbiotic effect is instead a net build up fueled by the net input energy of the sun’s faithful daily contributions. Using technology in a well balanced portfolio can amplify the natural symbiotic relationship to create one that is actually net “regenerative”.
“Symbiotic” should be the minimum for modern rural livers, while “regenerative” is the norm to exemplify truly heroic human culture. “Footprint” in rural life should become a thing of the past and its mark in and around cities an unfortunate stain of the support mechanism for excess population. We can cope if the earth is willing to allow this “footprint” compromise, as we people try to meet the demands of a world population likely to grow for another half century before peak and decline set in. Considering the resilience of the earth, the allowance for and challenge of the modern day mega-cities can be absorbed by a vibrant and increasingly green earth if those cities increasingly adapt and decrease their demands and overall footprint while weaning themselves to their local biome and local “resource base”. In such a system the city with its support base of surrounding lands can aim for net zero footprint otherwise out of reach for the city alone. Cooperation and teamwork are called for, but I believe in most places it can be done.