Friday, April 15, 2005

Calculate Your Ecological Footprint

If you would like to have your ecological footprint calculated, click here.

Interestingly, New York City living makes my footprint much smaller than were I to live on a small farm in the rural northeast United States. This latter situation is my ideal, and I have long assumed that the rural lifestyle – eating only local or organic fruits and vegetables, hunting the occasional white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and engaging in local conservation efforts - would reduce my negative environmental impact.

Not so. In fact, despite my now eating mostly non-organic, shipped vegetables – I eat Chinese or Mexican takeout too often to claim otherwise – my lifestyle here in New York City is relatively environmental friendly. This is a result of my walking or taking public transportation everywhere, but is also affected by my living in a large apartment building, and, most importantly, by the population of New York City itself.

If I were to transplant myself to the outskirts of a small New England town, my ecological footprint would balloon. In fact, even if I opted to live in a city such as Burlington, Vermont, one known for its eco-friendly attitude and policy, my footprint, while under the national average, would still be much larger than at present.

The average ecological footprint of a United States citizen is 24. My no car/vegetarian lifestyle here in NYC adds up to a score of just 9. The equivalent lifestyle (with the addition of a car) in a Burlington, Vermont, apartment building equals 22. Finally, the small farmhouse/studio somewhere in New England equals an astounding 39.

Being a subscriber to the no pain-no gain approach, I think I have to compromise. I imagine I will end up shelving the small farm idea, instead opting for an apartment in a New England city like Burlington, someplace with proximity to unsettled areas and numerous parks. I still believe private land ownership and conservation easements are of vital importance, so if my finances allow for it I would like to purchase a plot of land, roughly 30 acres, to manage for wildlife and leave undeveloped.


chris@organicmatter said...

David Quammen wrote, and I think it's true, that "if everyone who purports to cherish wild landscape decides that he or she must own and live on a chunk of it, there won't be any more wild landscape."

Mikhail Capone said...

A way to improve your "footprint" in a rural area would be to help others lower theirs.

For example, if your small farm produces organic food that is sold locally, or if you use it to almost completely feed yourself and family/friends/neighbhors, avoiding them the chance to buy imported food from factory farms, full of chemicals, etc..

OGeorge said...

There's no question about how many children you have had. I had one son and took myself out of the breeding population with a vasectomy while still in my mid twenties. I think that rates a smaller footprint than the father of 5.

It's still and interesting test. My score was 21.

Mikhail Capone said...

What we must not forget is that many things are interconnected; if you are a good source of tips and information for the people who know you, and that you help them reduce their footprints, that helps too.

It doesn't mean being preachy, but when the subject comes up, we have to share the knowledge that we have.

Hungry Hyaena said...

The Quammen quote is wonderfully pertinent, Chris. Thanks.

Mikhail, your points are well-taken and, though I certainly plan to continue trying to raise awareness without being preachy, I view my own actions most critically, primarily because I CAN exert control in this sphere.

O'George, I admire your decision to have a vasectomy. I have considered doing so myself but until I become more of a playboy I'll continue to put my trust in contraception. Of course, such trust isn't necessarily warranted; a torturous pregnancy scare in college taught me as much and got me to thinking about the "ultimate" solution in the first place.

There are certainly problems with the test; the lack of a "children question" is a glaring example. I also think they should distinguish between purchased meat and hunted/caught meat, just as they do between shipped/non-organic vegetables and organic produce. As Mikhail pointed out, a series of questions about personal return - local participation in conservation programs, for example - would be of use, though I'm not sure how the designers could qualify scoring of such a category.

Mikhail Capone said...

I would say that there are two ways we can have influence; I'd label them small and large scale (although that can be misleading at first).

Small scale would be anything we personally do, and large would be anything we do that has influence over others, from our close friends up to political decisions we take as elected official.

My plans for the second are to do pro bono work in the environmental law sector once I'm a working lawyer (in Canada), and maybe even run for mayor of the mid-sized city where I live in 20-30 years (long-term possibility - who knows what will happen in the meantime or even if I live that long - but interesting nonethless).

Devo said...

Yuck, what a depressing link, HH. Despite my understanding of the responsibilities that face me as a citizen of one of the world's most aggressively industrialized nations, I still manage a score of a whopping 22 on that there test. I know that I could be doing more, but often the investment necessary to improve my footprint in the most obvious ways is too much for my narcissistic American ego to take. Spending the money to make my house more "green" for example is almost impossible. That's mainly because we live in a house that is over fifty years old, and simple upkeep is expensive enough... let along buying solar panels or a windmill for the roof...

Anyway, I'm very curious about your understanding of plastic recycling. How is the medicine worse than the disease? We recycle a lot of plastic where I live, and if I am in fact doing more harm than good, I'd be very intersted in knowing why.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Follow this link to learn more about the problem with plastics recycling. The terrible trifecta is: 1) small percentage is actually recycled, as it deemed too dangerous/ineffective/complicated to reconstitute - think of the various #s, 2) PVC content and related pollution caused by plastics recycling process - burning and melting releases harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, 3) humanitarian concerns; overseas impact of western consumption.

Not surprisingly, this trifecta is almost the same as that of computer consumption. My solution: avoid plastics as much as possible and keep your computer until it is literally dying...then donate it to need-based organization. I buy one bottled water and wash/refill it with tap water for 6 or more months.

Sadly, in some cases, it's just damned difficult to avoid plastic, as everything seems to use it these days. It's a very real dilemma and one that reaches beyond recycling. If not for the related pollution, which some sources argue makes negligible the benefit of two-time-use plastic, I would continue to recycle both numbers 1 and 2 plastics. Until we figure out a way to make the recycling process more environmentally friendly, though, plastics recycling results in a no-win situtation.

Devo said...

Holy crap... I had no idea that plastic recycling led such a double life... It always seemed to me that it was the crown jewel in our culture's brand new crown of environmental awareness... It's also always really strange to me to see how true it is that China remains a human rights disaster zone. I always want to attribute those charges to a hostile Bushian government wanting to slander its last remaining powerful enemy...


chris@organicmatter said...

Of course, the necessity for plastic recycling could be reduced by programs like the one used on Prince Edward Island (and Germany, apparently).

Hungry Hyaena said...

Absolutely, Chris. Unfortunately, like the transition to sharing/rentals mentioned in this post, convincing many Americans to reuse plastic bottles will take a concerted effort...and a dramatic shift away from our contemporary, easy-come, easy-go approach.