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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Have you checked your ecological footprint lately?

Ecological Footprint Quiz by Redefining Progress
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.

Image courtesy Redefining Progress

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.

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Wanda said...

This is a challenge indeed. I'm not even going to confess my numbers. However, we do what we can. I hope to continue to improve my footprint.

Kathryn Grace said...

I agree with you. We do what we can, and I know you are already doing a lot. Thanks so much for checking your footprint.

Hayden said...

I almost figured my numbers once, but it was - candidly, no pride here - way too much work, took too long. And it's exactly the sort of thing I can least tolerate... record keeping and totaling things up.

However - it's been years since I've had much garbage to toss at the end of the week, and it's getting smaller. I compost, buy fresh, avoid packaging, carry my own bags. When I do have packaging (sometimes difficult to avoid for veggies in MI in winter, it seems) I typically manage to use it several times before tossing it.

I'm driving more than I want to - but driving a hybrid, for what it's worth. My choice to work the land means I'm no longer close to anything. I group my errands as best I can, but...

oh... and I've begun composting the coffee grounds for my local coffee shop so they no longer toss them. That's about 15 gal (3 5-gal pails) a week. Earthworms love coffee grounds.

Hayden said...

ok, I used your link which was simple - the last one I saw kept a running total using charts - like accounting. Yeech.

But - I'm scratching my head. The only suggestions they had were what I already told them I"m doing - eat local, plant a garden, insulate, energy-saver stuff, etc. etc. OH - and take public transportation or walk. Given that the closest thing is the post office, and that's 4 miles away, I don't think so. Realistically I'm not sure - from them - what I could do differently - except not live here. And then someone else would, so I'm not sure what we've accomplished.

It left me confused, and not feeling like I had any new good ideas about what to do differently - except, of course, stop farming. But someone has to, especially if we want to eat locally. And local food, for the most part, isn't going to come from the big guys - they grow supermarket commodities and have no interest in farmers markets or customers. It's small farms, like mine (I hope) that are needed to supply food to the communities.

Kathryn Grace said...

Hayden, how lucky you are to have found a coffee shop that will save their grounds for you. I love hearing about such cooperative exchanges. Fifteen gallons may not seem like a lot to some folks, but what if we all did something like that 52 weeks a year? After all, we all contribute waste in small amounts here and there, and that's what makes the mess we have now. You are doing a very good thing.

As for the footprint calculator. Yes, they've made it much easier on the calculating end, and not terribly relevant on the next steps end. For me too, they recommended I take the steps I had already told them I was taking. I'll use their contact button to send a note about the problem.

Paul said...

I've thought about this for several days. I completed the assessment about two years ago. Since then we've made some significant changes so I expected an improved result.

I bought a used house of 750 square feet. I added a room 40 feet in length on the south side to capture heat in the winter. I used as much recycled materials as possible. My back up heating system is a wood stove. I burn dead wood cut in the national forest. I have a garden. We use approximately 300 gallons of water per week or about 21 gallons per person per day. We've installed a dual-flush toilet, a high efficiency washer and a low-flow shower head with a button to stop the flow temporarily. We capture water and use it twice whenever possible. We compost and recycle paper, cardboard, all plastics, aluminum, metal and glass. We make one trip to the landfill each June. Yesterday I filled the tank of the vehicle that we drive ninety percent of the time and checked our mileage - 44.3 MPG. I have two vehicles that we bought used. One is a work vehicle used to haul water and materials. The other is for travel to work. They have a combined age of 18 years and a combined mileage of 360,000 miles. We minimize purchases and purchase used items whenever possible. We generate all of our electricity. Perhaps one percent is non-renewable. We used approximately one acre of the ten that we own. The rest is untouched and I have no plans to use or alter it.

I could go on but my mental inventory indicates there is little more that we can do. I do have plans for a solar water heater, enlarged gardens, a complete gray water system and expanded rain water harvesting.

My concern is the seeming futility returned by the assessment. I took it multiple times. I reduced the size of my house and reduced travel to an unrealistic level. By doing this I got the result of less than eight tenths of an earth.

Travel is the challenge. It appears we need to return to a communal grouping where several people live close together in the midst of enough land to provide quality of life, space for wildlife and areas for sustainable farming and gardening.

I question the validity of the assessment for some purposes. It appears to be designed to point out the excessiveness of most Americans but is not useful for someone attempting to reduce consumption and impact. It's not granular enough. I would like to find an assessment tool that may take a few hours to complete but will enable me to enter amounts of gasline, LPG, natural gas, R-value of insulation, windows, doors, size of house, types of food consumed, etc. In the end I know it will tell me things I already know but it may give me a better assessment and the ability to identify high priority items to target and change.

I appreciate you and the effort you put into your writing. Thank you.

Kathryn Grace said...

Paul, I feel the same frustrations. Hayden, above, expressed something similar as well. I wrote to Redefining Progress about these concerns a few weeks ago, and have yet to receive a reply. The calculator measures a few broad areas but does not yet address the minutiae of changes many of us are making. They need to catch up to us!

You and Julie have done more than anyone I know (well, I don't actually know you, except through your blog) to minimize your footprint. I look to you constantly for inspiration and with a kind of eco-voyeurism for something I cannot yet attain in my own life.

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