Ecosystems provide many critical services to human society, including both the direct provision of goods, such as food and fiber products, as well as less-visible services, such as water filtration and climate stabilization. The availability of these ecosystem services depends closely on the functioning of biological capital. Broadly defined, biological capital consists ofall ofthe ecosystems and various components of the biosphere that directly or indirectly provide goods and services. Careful management ofthis capital is central to maintaining not only the health of the natural environment but also human well-being into the future.

Managing biological capital, however, requires tools that are able to track its availability and its use. The Ecological Footprint is an accounting tool that calculates human demand on the biosphere, and compare this to the planet's ability to meet these demands. By answering the specific research question, ''how much of the Earth's regenerative capacity is occupied by human activities?,'' footprint analysis helps governments, businesses, and individuals track the use and availability of biological capital over time. Similar to financial balance sheets, the resulting ecological accounts can be used as a quantitative input into decision making at all levels.

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