Last year, in recognition of Earth Day 2009, I calculated my family's ecological footprint and learned that if everyone lived as we did, it would take 1.83 Earths to sustain us all. Over the last year, we've made some changes, and today I checked to see if we had reduced our footprint. The good news is, yes, we have, a little. The bad news: we're still using more than our share of the Earth's resources. As of today, it would take 1.28 Earths to sustain all of us at my family's level of consumption. We've reduced our footprint by about half an Earth.
The really bad news: Most Americans are consuming way more, and because of that consumption, our nationwide footprint is enormous. You can get a feel for it on this chart, by Redefining Progress, comparing our footprint to the nation's as a whole. We're in gold. The U.S. is in blue.
I'm not trying to toot my own horn here. We've been working at this for decades. What I feel is sadness. I'm sad because, first of all I'm not sure our household can sustain the reduced level of consumption we achieved this year. The main reason our footprint is lower is that we took no airplane trips last year. We did not visit our family members, including my mom, once. I'm a family person. That's very difficult for me.
Another reason our footprint is lower than the nationwide average is that we eat very little meat. We are gradually moving to a vegetarian diet. Will we go all the way? Too soon to tell. We find a lingering distaste in our mouths after eating meats we used to love. Still, we bought three pounds of (grass-fed, organic) ground beef the other day. We'll keep it in the freezer for those times we feel we must have meat--and we do yearn for it now and then.
A third reason our footprint is relatively low is that we are fortunate to live in a city with good public transportation. That is by design. About fourteen years ago, we made a conscious decision to move to a larger city for that very reason. By and large, we do not need to schedule a City Car Share vehicle more than once or twice a month. We continually seek ways to reduce our combustible engine travel, but we're close to maxed on what we are likely to achieve on that as well, and with one daughter and her family seventy miles away, car travel is sometimes necessary.
Can we further reduce our ecological footprint? We're making small steps along the way. I'll tell you more about them tomorrow. Living consciously, taking no more than our share is tough when we're used to so much luxury and convenience, but there is no hope of living in a beautiful, socially just, sustainable world like Ordinary unless we change our sometimes thoughtless consumption patterns now.
I'll keep pushing myself and my family on this end. What about you? Have you checked your ecological footprint lately? How is your move toward a more sustainable life working for you? Can we share tips and struggles?
We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.