Ecological Footprint – Traffic Ahead
Have you ever looked in a full elevator from the outside and stepped forward thinking, “Yeah, they can fit one more?” Normally, the reaction of the existing travelers to this contraption aren’t as excited about the proposition, but my estimate is that 30% or so of the joyful optimists, say “Sure, we can fit one more”. This personal ecological footprint paper will examine my personal footprint along with the discussion of how many “one mores” we can “safely” absorb with our/my current consumption pattern(s). The assessment will involve the three popular footprint calculators and my personal tabular results from one of them.
The introspection portion of this paper will involve my own behavior analysis augmented by external references reflecting on our collective existence and connection to the earth. The summary will be inspirational for the possibilities and improvements we can make to create ample space in the elevator. Going Up!
THE RESULTS ARE IN
The Michael Straley ecological footprint scores are posted! Let the reflection begin. With grades of 6.61, 1.6, and 6.6, that would be an average of 4.9 planet earths required for my existence. The detailed results below are from the Center for Sustainable Economy footprint calculator utilizing My FootPrint Calculator
(in global acres)
Goods and Services Footprint
My total footprint
(in global acres)
Marine fisheries footprint
My total footprint
Number of Earths
My 6.61 earths could be a sign or badge of wealth and accomplishment for being above average, being prosperous, being able to afford food, services, travel and energy enough to provide comfort and luxury in excess of the demarcation line of existence and survival. Whether that comfort creates happiness, joy, and health is outside the scope of this paper, however it does lead back to the analogy of the elevator and an updated question; with that score, is there room for one more? Given humanity’s average of 1.4 planet Earths (Global Footprint Network, 2011), the answer is, “the elevator is getting packed full!” The risk of an overloaded elevator includes inability of effective operation, getting stuck, and even worse, the cable breaking. Even if it isn’t as dramatic as the crash to the ground, as in the movies, the point is clear, read and obey the capacity rating on the elevator.
We are intelligent humans, if we have a capacity problem, simple answer, we create more capacity! To determine our success with this strategy, we recall upon history and history reveals a pattern: We create new technologies only to discover that they lead to health complications. Then we solve the problem with science. Additionally, we have a tendency to find out much too late that modern living is also killing us. (Young & Dhanda, 2013). The $64,000 question is always, “is it different this time?” With the world population expected to double in the next 58 years (Pimentel & Pimentel, 2008), we can no longer expect the other person to change their behavior to fix the problem.
MY DEDUCTION AND MY REDUCTION
Knowing the footprint averages, my surprise was largely found in how many aspects of my life had impact on my ecological footprint. I found the Earth Day website to be the most conducive to these what-if scenarios. I simulated a dramatic lifestyle change which included moving my avatar wife into a 1500 sqft. home, reducing my commute to a minimum, buying a car with 40+ MPG, utilizing public transportation, cutting all meat out of my diet, buying local produce, vacationing local, recycling everything, buying recycled products and installing a solar generator. I thought this would yield a below 1.0 planet earths, but much to my dismay, we only made it to 3.1. We subsequently moved myself and my avatar wife to India and were able to accomplish 0.4 planet earths. After much joy and celebrations over our footprint reduction, we began missing our children and family and were spending so much on airfare, we decided to move closer and chose Calgary, Canada. We set up home in a minimalist manner and were able to accomplish 5.8 hectares or converted equates to 3.2 planet earths. Much to our dismay our footprint was not much less than minimalist setup in Virginia, so we decided to move back. Upon looking at the footprint percentage breakdown metrics, the high land/energy component suggests the abundance of land and energy availability to the American and Canadian citizen creates a default high basis to the footprint reading. Based on those simulations, there must be an inherent population density parameter built into the algorithm. With that noted, that compels an intensified probe into what we can accomplish on an individual level.
CHANGES IN TIME AND PACE
Technology and advancements worldwide are being seen in areas such as renewable energy, physicians per capita, and energy efficiency, but depletions are being seen in forest areas, greenhouse-gas emissions, and increases in ecological footprints (Docksai, 2014). The biggest obstacles I see to improving these sustainability depletions involve “Time and Pace”. Seeking convenience is largely driven by desire to save time due to our hectic pace. I have found that if I slow down, I actually consume less, spend more time improving what I already have, and spend more time on sustainability rather than consumption. Realizing that I have more acreage footprint available to me in America, I can utilize that footprint by improvements in gardening, solar strategies, and other life enhancing sustainable behavior changes.
Before I can make those larger steps, I need to alter my built in “productivity” equation and engage a mindset of a “sustainability” equation. As I changed my mindset through the duration of the REALTOR® University RE590 LEED Design, Construction, and Sustainability class, my behaviors began to change and contagiously affect the behaviors of others around me. One example just yesterday involved my daughter holding up a water bottle and said, “Dad, look I refilled it.” Other obvious measurable differences included my recycling canister being more full than the trash canister. The purchase of my beloved paper towels has recently been replaced by washable kitchen towels. Our favorite change has been that our throw away coffee cups are being replaced by look alike re-useable $1 plastic Starbucks cups. Sweatshirts during our cold winter are compensating for a slow reduction in household temperatures driven by a simple click-click on the thermostat. We are in the midst of many more changes triggered by a simple, yet thorough shift in mindset. I truly cannot testify as to how this will exactly change my ecological footprint, but one less of this and one less of that times 7 billion can probably make some degree of impact. This equation compels the next question; can one less car on the road prevent a traffic jam?
If the Earth Highway LED traffic sign read “Heavy Congestion 2 months ahead”, would you take an alternate route? With the ecological footprint of our population exceeding the earth’s current capacity, the traffic sign is blinking red! Unfortunately, our existence is more like this upcoming traffic jam rather than the simplistic analogy of an elevator exceeding capacity. We are all driving ahead at 70 MPH, not aware of the upcoming bottleneck and then BAMM, a screeching halt, traffic imprisonment! Even though we notice the informational warning sign, we have a hopeful disillusion that the bottleneck will be gone by the time we arrive. We also tend to feel there is little we can do to change the situation; after all we are just ONE car. The challenge upon us is that self-interest is a powerful motivator and diffusing responsibility to others is a common tendency (Kish-gephart, Detert, Treviño, Baker, & Martin, 2014). To break this pattern requires a shift in mindset/awareness, a vision or a catalyst that changes individual behavior or alternatively, in the worst case, accidents, illnesses, resource depletions and tragedies to force the change (not fun!). A big picture top down view is for governments, civil societies, businesses and international organizations to support and institute sustainability (Ahmad & Ahmed, 2012). Lest we forget, those organizations are all made of humans, so another more simple paradigm that can trigger this shift is to love one another, which sparks selfless-interest. This might possibly be best relayed in poetry rather than reasoning. To read poetry, it involves a change in pace, which may be the first step to the change in place and the next to change this place. Pause, then Absorb!
“No Man is an Island”
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (Donne, 1624)
Ahmad, W., Soskolne, C. L., & Ahmed, T. (2012). Strategic thinking on sustainability: Challenges and sectoral roles.Environment, Development and Sustainability, 14(1), 67-83. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10668-011-9309-5
Docksai, R. (2014). Annual report card on our future. The Futurist, 48(4), 53-55. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1535042809?accountid=41020
Global Footprint Network Homepage.” Global Footprint Network. www.footprintnetwork.org
Kish-gephart, J., Detert, J., Treviño, L. K., Baker, V., & Martin, S. (2014). Situational moral disengagement: Can the effects of self-interest be mitigated? Journal of Business Ethics, 125(2), 267-285. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1909-6
Pimentel, D., & Pimentel, M. (2008). The future: World population and food security. In C. L. Soskolne, L. Westra, L. J. Kotze´, B. Mackey, W. E. Rees, & R. Westra (Eds.), Sustaining life on earth: environmental and human health through global governance (pp. 285–298). Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books, A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 482 pp.
Young, S., Dhanda, K. (2013). Sustainability: Essentials for Business, 5.
Ecological Footprint Quizzes and Calculators: