Footprints on the prairies: Degradation and sustainability of Canadian agricultural land in a globalizing world
Rees, William E.
The [`]Canadian prairies' represent one of the world's great breadbaskets, supplying people all over the world with agricultural commodities ranging from various grains, through legumes and oilseeds, to both grain and grass-fed meat products. However, the expansion and intensification of Canadian agriculture in the last century has significantly altered the structure and degraded the function of prairie ecosystems. This, combined with climate change, has put the ecological sustainability of the region at risk and raises questions about the region's ability to continue supporting millions of distant consumers. We use variants of two existing sustainability assessment tools, material flows analysis (MFA) and ecological footprint analysis (EFA) to estimate the terrestrial ecosystem area and other physical inputs used on the Canadian prairies to satisfy export demand and to link this production to documented processes of ecological degradation. We discuss the implications of this interregional framework for impact analysis and conclude that, in a globalizing, ecologically full-world, trade-dependence implies previously-ignored risks to both importers and exporters. The results underscore the importance for all countries to protect or restore their own natural capital assets and enhance their self-reliance. Citizens and their governments, particularly of countries that have become irreversibly import-dependent, have a direct interest in ensuring that the ecosystems that support them are sustainably managed, wherever in the world the latter may be located.
International trade Ecological footprint analysis Material flows analysis Canadian prairies Ecological degradation
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