What is a carbon footprint or ecological footprint?
“Carbon Footprint” and “Ecological Footprint” are fancy terms that simply describe how many total acres of land it takes to support your current lifestyle. For simplicity, I will stick to the term “Ecological Footprint.”
My parents recently e-mailed me some pictures of their five acres of land after a snowfall. The beauty of the land where I grew up makes me want to live in a way that will preserve ecologically productive land for everyone.
For the Love of Nature
If you love nature and living simply, then I recommend the book, Radical Simplicity, above the numerous other simplicity books I have read. I saw the author of Radical Simplicity, Jim Merkel, speak about his book in a small setting at the Ballard Library in Seattle, Washington. His book discusses the concept of an Ecological Footprint, which is essentially the amount of total land area needed to sustain a person’s way of life. Key facts include:
(1) there are about 6 billion people who live on the earth (since the publication of Radical Simplicity, the earth’s population is even higher now, closer to 6.5 billion or more); and
(2) there are about 28,200,000,000 (28.2 billion) acres of biologically productive land on earth (of course the earth is not getting any bigger);
Given these two facts, each person has about 4.7 total acres available to him or her.
Americans use, on average, 24 acres per person, which is clearly not sustainable. If everyone lived like that, we would have to have several earths on which to live. Also, none of this takes into account the millions of other species (besides humans) who also need space to inhabit the earth.
But What Can I Do, As an Individual?
Finding a solution to this seemingly insurmountable problem fascinates me. The two most important actions that individuals have control over are:
1. POPULATION: we, as individuals, need to make the choice to have one biological child per two adults on average (which means some of us will likely want to choose not to have any children to make up for those who have more than one) to reduce the population to sustainable levels (one billion or less rather than the current 6 billion and growing), and
2. CONSUMPTION: we need to significantly reduce our consumption (in terms of food, housing, transportation, and goods and services) such that, in the near future, our footprints are about six acres per person living in the United States.
The World Population Clock is Ticking at an Alarming Rate
If you want to see how frighteningly fast the population of the world is increasing, take a look at the population counter at http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html .
A More Radical Approach to Reducing Consumption
Feeling overwhelmed because you cannot do anything about other people’s decisions to reproduce? Focus on reducing your consumption. Model this behavior for all to see. The more people in the world, the more people to learn from your behavior. For a footprint of about five (5) acres, implement the following into your life:
Eat a vegetarian or vegan diet (no or very little meat or animal-based products).
Buy locally grown (200 miles away or less), unprocessed, less packaged or unpackaged foods.
Use self-propulsion for mobility (no autos, motorbikes, planes) – walk and bicycle, taking the bus only occasionally (1-10 miles per week).
For a two-person household, live in a 500 or less square foot home, preferably in a multi-story condominium/apartment building or a green-design residence.
Use energy conservation and efficiency (practices, appliances, CFLs rather than light bulbs, etc.). A nice list of easy things you can do to live a more efficient life can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) website at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/index.html .
Carefully consider every single item you allow yourself to bring into your home.
Calculate Your Own Personal Ecological Footprint
Calculate your personal ecological footprint (that is, how many acres of land it takes to support your current lifestyle) http://www.myfootprint.org/ .