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Magazine / GRAPHIC

The Human Footprint

Measuring our impact on Earth

April 14, 2011

Humanity’s impact has spread unevenly but everywhere as we have transformed land and sea to meet the demands of a population that has doubled to 7 billion in 40 years.

This map of the human footprint on land shows the combined impact of population density, land transformation, accessibility, and electric-power infrastructure, using nine data sets that researchers scored in terms of estimated contribution to human influence. The corresponding map of the oceans shows the effects of 17 different human activities, such as commercial fishing and pollution from cargo shipping. Both sets of results factored in differences between Earth’s various ecosystems.


On Land ...

... And In The Oceans

The coastal waters of highly developed regions have felt the effects of human activity most acutely. Regions near the poles and Australia are less affected.



Development’s Impact

Developing countries are home to 80 percent of the world’s population but are responsible for only half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. As their standard of living and energy use rise, and as their populations swell, developing countries will have a greater impact on the planet.


Sources: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center; National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis; Wildlife Conservation Society; Center for International Earth Science Information Network; United Nations Population Division; World Resources Institute

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