“We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. The icon of the whole earth is the largest scale example we have of a self-regulating ‘organism’ which is subject to feedback controls, like global warming. The proverb “the sins of the fathers are visited unto the children of the seventh generation” reminds us that negative feedback is often slow to emerge.” David Holmgren, Permaculture Principle 4 – Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
Each day when I sit at my desk I look at a photo taken in 2007 of our footprints on a -other than us- deserted beach north of Broome… which in this climate change aware era leads me to consider other kinds of footprints.
WWF defines ecological footprint as “the impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated” and offers a simple Global Footprint Network Calculator which helps people examine their lives in relation to the resources they use, and obtain feedback. It doesn’t paint the entire picture but the exercise enlightening.
The questions below are courtesy of the Global Footprint Network. Ecological footprint is one of the few calculators where the lower the score the better off we all are in the long run. I never like to take a quiz alone, I like to see other people’s answers so I’ve ticked mine below.
How often do you eat animal-based products? (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy)
Never – vegan
Infrequently – vegetarian – eggs/dairy, no meat
Occasionally – really like veges – occasional meat, eggs/dairy
Often – balanced meat/veges, meat a few times a week, eggs/dairy almost daily √
Very often – meat daily
How much of the food you eat is unprocessed, unpackaged or locally grown?
How much of your diet is fresh unpackaged foods? 1% – 50% √ – 100%
How much of your diet is locally grown or produced? 1% – 50% √ – 100%
Which housing type best describes your home?
House, no running water
House, running water √
Duplex/townhouse or building with 2 to 4 housing units
What material is your house constructed with?
How many people live in your household? 1, 2 √ to 10+
What is the size of your home?
Tiny – 5 sqm
Medium – 130 sqm √
Large – 148 sqm
Huge – 468 to 1394 sqm
Do you have electricity in your home? Yes √ or No
How energy efficient is your home?
Very inefficient – poor insulation, low LED lamps, heating/cooling systems used often
Below average – inefficient lighting, standard appliances
Average – modern appliances, climate controls
Above average – well insulated, efficient lighting and appliances, careful use √
Efficiency-centred design – passive heating/cooling, advanced temperature control and ventilation, low electricity use
What percentage of your home’s electricity comes from renewable sources? (either directly or through purchased green power) Low 0% – Medium 50% √ – High 100%.
Compared to your neighbours how much rubbish do you generate?
Much less √ – About the same – Much more.
Options -below- that help you calculate this relate to how much you purchase.
What comes closest to your monthly new clothing, footwear and/or sporting purchases
Minimal to none
Not much – underwear and socks √
Average – shirts, underwear and socks
Above average – shoes, pants, shirts, underwear and socks
A lot – several new outfits and shoes every month
How often do you purchase new:
Infrequently – I only replace broken appliances when needed √
Occasionally – I sometimes replace out-of-date models with new appliances
Often – I replace most of my appliances with the latest models
Very often – I always have the latest and greatest appliances
Infrequently – I generally only replace broken TVs, computers √
Occasionally – I replace out-of-date models and occasionally buy a new gadget
Often – I own many of the newest gadgets on the market
Very often – I always have the latest and greatest gadgets
Books, magazines and newspapers:
Never, rarely √
Infrequently – I read most of the news online and borrow many of the books and magazines I read
Occasionally – I read some news online and subscribe to a couple of magazines or newspapers
Often – I often get a newspaper and buy magazine or books every week or two
Very often – I get a daily newspaper and buy books or magazines several times a week
What comes closest to your annual new household furnishings purchase?
Minimal to none
Not much – I haven’t decorated in years, maybe just some new towels and sheets √
Average – new bedding, and a lamp or table
Above average – a couch or new bedroom set
A lot – I completely refurnished my living room
How much do you recycle:
Little to none – Some – Half – Most – All √
Little to none – Some √ – Half – Most – All
How far do you travel by car or motorcycle (as a driver or passenger) each week?
Zero km – Somewhere in between √ – Very far: up to 800 kms
What is the average fuel economy of the vehicle you use most often?
Efficient or electric 2 litres/100 km – Somewhere in between √ – Inefficient 24 litres/100 km
When you travel by car, how often do you carpool?
Never – Infrequently – Occasionally – Often √ – Always
How far do you travel on public transportation (bus or train) every week?
0 km to not far √ – Somewhere in between – Very far: up to 800 km
How many hours do you fly each year?
0 hours √ – Somewhere in between – Many: up to 200 hours.
There are no right or wrong answers. Some criteria are difficult to change: the type of house we live in; where we live; how much and what transportation we use; what is necessary, affordable or available; and other things dependent on our particular circumstances.
Also, there are societal factors that as individuals we have little or no control over. The Global Footprint Network FAQs advise “our Footprint includes activities in the Services category that are not considered personal, but societal. These areas include (but are not limited to) health care, entertainment, restaurants, real estate, legal services, government, and the military. These services are not variable in the calculator: Everyone taking the quiz has a portion of their nation’s services footprint allocated to them.”
I can see where my habits and choices have changed over the years. Once upon a time my footprint was far higher. For me, and many others there is a natural evolution of growing awareness, motivation and ability to make positive changes within our means.
For us, one circumstance that has contributed to decreasing of our household ecological footprint is our treechange from city to rural life, and as a result the downshifting of our finances and lifestyle to a less-is-more life.
“Live simply so that others may simply live.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Your thoughts? Comments welcome.
Between now and July 2020 I’m studying Certificate IV Permaculture via Tafe NSW and the National Environment Centre flexible online learning. Studying online, I discovered, involves a lot of writing. This year of study, I think, might lend itself to some blog posts… follow along if you are interested in learning what I learn during my permaculture journey.