Friday, January 8, 2010

Is Your Ecological Footprint Shoe-Sized or Cello-Case Sized?

The recent UN-sponsored Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen focused on the ways mankind is adversely affecting the earth’s atmosphere. But in fact we are adversely impacting every natural system on the planet, not just our atmosphere.
The Ecological Footprint is a way of quantifying this.
The originator of the concept, environmentalist Mathis Wackernagel, converted all the earth's resources, including the oceans, crop land, fresh water resources, forests and the atmosphere into a single unit of measurement, productive hectares of land. He termed these “global hectares.” Then he calculated each person's share. That's the Ecological Footprint. With 6.9 billion people on the planet, the average stands at 1.6 global hectares per person. (1.6 global hectares equals about 2 acres.)
The size of an average American's ecological footprint, however, has ballooned to about 9 global hectares. If everyone on earth lived like we do, we would need five planets, clearly an unsustainable proposition.

What’s the size of your Ecological Footprint? The links below offer several different ways to measures it.

You may discover that your lifestyle has more impact than you think. Running the numbers for my regular routine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which I had always considered benign, my scores were a bit over the average American’s and ranged from 5.06 to 5.4 planets (that is, if everyone lived like me we would need more than 5 planets).

I also plugged in the data for Manhattan, where I lived for the last year, and my score went down by only one planet. I had expected the difference to be greater because in New York we lived in a small, high rise apartment and used the subway exclusively. But air travel, meat consumption and not buying 100 percent locally raised food (buying any local produce was almost impossible in our neighborhood on Roosevelt Island) consume an enormous amount of resources no matter where you live.

Best Foot Forward

Earthday Network Footprint Calculator

Center for Sustainable Economy

Global Footprint Network

Ecology Fund will give you the size of your footprint if you lived in the UK. Mine was  about half the size of my American footprint because Europeans use far fewer resources than Americans.

A great read on the state of our planet – Lester Brown’s “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization” (W.W. Norton $16.95)