My Footprint is Too Big

Hmm. I guess I’m less green that I thought.

I just took the ecological footprints quiz at to try and determine the impact my consumerist lifestyle is having on the planet.

The verdict? Not so good. The quick 14 question quiz told me that I would need 6.5 global hectares to support my lifestyle. And the bad news is that we only have 1.8 biologically productive hectares per person to work with. The bottom line was that we would need 3.6 planet Earths to support a lifestyle like mine. And despite my enjoyment of Star Trek and enthusiasm for its mission to seek out new worlds, I’m pretty sure we’re only working with one world for the foreseeable future.

It’s interesting to me that Mountain Equipment Co-op links to the page and its test. Promotes it, even. The test pushed people towards a re-examination of their consumption patterns, partitioned in food, mobility, shelter, and goods and services. Examining each of those areas a little bit closer is supposed to help us all learn to live within a world of limited resources.

Air Canada is working with another related group called to try to offset the massive carbon emissions of air travel. And the City of Toronto is working with both organizations to both make citizens of this fair city aware of the environmental impacts of their consumption, and offer them alternatives (including carbon offsets).

First developed in 1992 by William Rees, a Canadian professor at University of British Columbia, ecological footprints are a rough way of approximating our impact on the environment. They’re a way of bringing an accounting like approach to our consumption. Heck, I give Mountain Co-Op a lot of credit. I can’t see Ford, McDonald’s, or Microsoft linking to the test on this site any time soon. By sheer implication it tell us to ditch the car, drop meat and most animal products from our diets, and stop using so damn much electricity.

Apparently we each have about 2 global hectares per person to work with. The average American has a shoe size, er, footprint of 9.5. The Swiss have much smaller feet, er, footprints, of 4. Chinese citizens are at the level of 1.5 global hectares per capita.

I’m enjoying the online forum responses that an article on ecological footprints is getting. The article by a writer named Lawrence Solomon headlines the idea that Reese (why are these things always personalized?) is advocating that we all move back to subsistence living, that it engages in “a slavish worship of primitivism” (of course, there’s no “science” in that; and besides, anyone who’s been to Burning Man can tell you, worshiping primitivism is lot of fun) and that this is all leading to the proposition that anything we earn “above $7,000 a year should be seized to prevent consumption” (um, I missed that part, weren’t we talking about ecological footprints here?).

Is this the dreaded Red Threat of the past turned a colorshifting shade of Green? Now the Greens are here to take your money, seize your assets, and end the capitalist consumption Dream.

The responses to the posting on, that great online bastion of conservative values, are terrific. Message posters quickly caught on to the idea that they could compete to try and outdo one another with a higher score, ias if this were a videogame: “3.9 planets! Yes!!!” wrote the aptly named “GodBlessRonaldReagan.”

The apocalyptically named “Doomonyou” writes: “I guess I need to eat more cheeseburgers, get a bigger truck and a bigger house, and move father away from work!”

“BuffaloJack,” perhaps a fellow Star Trek fan wrote “Wow, I would need 7 planets. We should start thinking about how we should conquer other worlds for our our [sic] use now.” Several other posts talk about getting resources from other planets, an intriguing linkage of consumption and space exploration.
There’s even some Charlton Hestonesque brute honesty in the postings too. “Bipolar Bob” writes that “You can have my air conditioning and TV remote when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” That is the truth of it. It’s awfully difficult to give up our comfortable lifestyles and our stuff. You first.

Squawk all you want at the approach, but it’s on the right track. Consumer society is based on the idea of unlimited abundance, not conservation (why aren’t most conservatives into conservation…that would make etymological sense to me). Although we certainly have made gains in productivity as a society and species (at enormous cost according to most scientists), those gains can not continue. We need to start thinking about living within limits. Thinking, at least. Yes, even the rich. Yes, even the middle class. Even if we can afford to consume more.

There are very few voices reminding us of that. That’s changing. And that’s a welcome change. There’s no doubt about it. My footprint is too big.

One Response

  1. Jeff Podoshen June 23, 2007

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