Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you to clean up the mess you made? You walked over to whatever it was, checked it out for a few minutes while you tried to figure out how to get out of it, and then made your pitch. And if you were like me (or my mom), that pitch never worked, but you got a “good try” and pat on the head as you were told to get it done.
It has always occurred to me that the environmental mess that we have created for ourselves is no different, with a few minor exceptions. We’ve put into play a great deal of changes that are affecting our planet, and it seems that it’s high time to get in there and clean things up. The problem is that some of the mess we’ve made is only now being discovered, and on top of that, the planet is so big and we are so removed from our messes, that we don’t always see what we’ve done.
That’s where something like the ecological footprint quiz comes in.
OK, I can hear you out there: “Oh boy, here he goes with global warming and CO2 and Al Gore and who knows what else” and you couldn’t be more incorrect. Don’t get me wrong, I think Global Warming (or Global Climate Change as it should have really been coined) is a huge problem and that we are involved in a tremendous amount of that piece of the pie. But this isn’t about Global Warming.
Every time we buy something, build something, dispose of something, or do just about anything else on this big blue ball we call home, we affect it. No matter how big or how small, our actions have consequences. Now as I mentioned before, some of these consequences are quite far removed, and some not even visible at the moment so as a result, we don’t always know about them or think to do anything about them. In essence, we are messing up our rooms, but even though we would like to be responsible, may not think of cleaning them up, because they don’t appear to be messy to us.
That’s why I like to point folks towards the footprint quiz. In a nutshell, the quiz is a good way to see how badly you are messing up your room. After launching it and picking a language and country, you then proceed to answer 21 fairly simple questions about your lifestyle. Most are fairly common sense and any adult should know the answers, but if you have kids, it’s also a great learning tool to sit and take the quiz with them.
Once you’ve answered the questions, the quiz then calculates how many planets worth of resources we would need if everyone lived the way you did. It’s quite sobering to look at and really gives you an idea of what you are a part of. Remember, even if you are lower than your next-door neighbor, anything over 1 planet means the game is over.
Now I know there are folks who are going to be reading this and thinking “that’s ridiculous, no 21 question survey can tell me how I am effecting the planet accurately” and quite honestly, you’re right. I don’t point folks towards the survey to come up with their number and then get depressed, or ask that very same question. While there is a fair amount of science behind the quiz, there are also obviously a fair amount of assumptions as well. So I tell people to think of it as a guide as to how they are living, sort of a jumping off point.
The real value of the quiz, to me anyway, comes about after you are done. If you have the time, go back and take the quiz once, twice or even five or six times and see what changes will reduce your footprint. As a jumping off point, try changing your country, your air travel, and your local food choices and see what the difference those choices bring. I did this with a class I taught last summer after challenging them to get below 1 planet’s worth of resources and only one student was able to achieve it. He had to live on a small farm with no electricity in Kazakhstan, but he got there.
Another great tool is to click on Take Action and then Reduce Your Footprint and you’ll read a host of things you can do to limit your impact on the planet right now. While at present time it’s general, there are still really good ideas and my guess is that in the future they will be personalizing these results.
The bottom line of all this is try to get in touch with how you are living and what you are a part of and you will be one step closer to making the changes that we all need to make. Don’t think of this as an absolute calculator, but as a guide, and see where you stand. And then share it with friends and see who’s living larger (pun intended).
Finally, I’ll share mine if you share yours. I’m in the US and according to my results we’d need 1.85 planets if everyone lived the lifestyle I live. While I’m happy that it is way below the national US average, as I said before, anything over 1 planet means the game is over, so I’ve got some work to do.
So what’s your number?
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”