Our eco-footprints

Please take a moment to take this footprint quiz*. The results will tell you, in a rough estimate, what your ecological ‘footprint’ is on the earth. The results can be fairly sobering–especially for those of us who live in North America in stand-alone homes, who commute daily to work, etc.

Sparked by this discussion over at SunstoneBlog, I thought it might be productive for us to discuss some of the ways that we each try to lessen our impact on the earth’s resources. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be wasteful, and that my efforts–even as conscientious as I want to be–are only a drop in the bucket compared to the harmful impact that I have on environment. However, I believe that purposeful living has rewards that go beyond immediate environmental savings; it has a spiritual component, too. For when we tread softly, we are filled with gratitude–for Mother Earth, for Father in Heaven, and for the remarkable gift of life.

A few of the ways I recycle/reuse/repurpose/reduce waste everyday:
–devoting time each day to moderate Freecycle
–maintaining 2 vermicomposting bins on my back porch; shredding my junkmail and feedng it to the worms
–adopting kitties from the local animal shelter
–buying produce from the famer’s market or organic items from Trader Joe’s
–maintaining a gianormous organic garden (weeding party, anyone?) and serving as the treasurer for the community garden council
–borrowing items instead of buying them. And loaning our stuff to others as needed, too
–using both sides of printer/copier paper
–giving gifts of time and love at holidays, instead of ‘stuff’
–bringing my own bags when I shop
–taking the train or bus when I travel instead of renting a car
–not eating meat

[*Note: my footprint was 8, what’s yours?]


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com

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  1. Deborah says:

    I took the quiz but don’t have the guts to post my score here. It IS lower than the U.S. average (a bit) Faint comfort for the guilty . . .

    I have spent much of this week agonizing over whether to stay at my current job — which involves an hour+ commute; in the car; on the freeway; each way — or look for something closer to home. I have been weighing out the pros and cons and they’ve pretty much come down to 1) I love my job 2) I HATE my commute . . . but there are other “costs” of commuting, beyond frequent trips to the gas station.

    For example, the hours spent away from home make me less driven to make eco-living a priority. The recycling is picked up once every two weeks, and at least once a month I forget to put it out before I leave at 6:30am — so it builds up for the next time, and the garage starts to get to crowded with clunky bottles and other unused items that I don’t know what to do with. Where do you send an old printer? A broken chair that you really don’t want anymore? Oh, and I have a local butcher that I love — but he closes before I get home most evenings. When I’m pulling in at 7pm, take-out becomes easier . . .

    I wonder — if I had those two hours back each day — if I could begin to make eco-friendly living a habit instead of simply a sometimes-acted-upon desire. Thanks for getting me thinking more about this . .

  2. jana says:

    you wrote–“Where do you send an old printer? A broken chair that you really don’t want anymore?”
    That’s what freecycle is for! (can you tell that I’m a freecycle zealot?). You can post your unwanted items and someone who fixes up computers for the poor, or someone who fixes furniture will reply to your post and pick up your unwanted items 🙂

    I have to admit that life is full of complications and compromises. An hour-long commute to a lovely job is a tough call. I’m guessing public transportation isn’t an option? Or ride-sharing?

    These are all very tough decisions. But worth the struggle, IMO.

  3. D-Train says:

    My footprint was an 11. Over half of this came from food, but I scored decently for living in a residence hall at OU and accrued almost no points since I don’t own a car and bike essentially everywhere. When I do ride in a car, it is with friends to a common destination.

    I’m not sure that I agree with the reasoning of the footprint (for example, I think shipping food around can make a lot of sense), but I agree with the basic idea. It’s been several months since I’ve extolled my own virtues for riding a bike. Thanks for the forum to do that 😉

  4. Anonymous says:

    My print was 6, mainly because I live in a small apartment, and walk everywhere, except for the two times a month I take the subway. Who knew New York was one of the greenest cities in the country? But I’m still embarrassed at how high that is, compared with the rest of the world. I think the area where I can really do better is planning my shopping trips so that I get to the local farmers’ markets, instead of eatingso much stuff that’s been flown or trucked in.

  5. Deborah says:

    Ok, so I need to check out Free-cycle. I have shelves of old gadgets that need a home . . . I did have one victory this weekend. My husband agreed to let me take a large load of his old but-they-might-come-back-in-style clothes (that devour all the closet space) to the Red Cross. Step one in simplifying.

    This afternoon I was stuck in traffic for over two hours, smelling exhaust and asphalt, staring at trucks on smoke-stacks on the freeway. Nothing like the Jersey Turnpike to attune you to the yelps of Mother Earth . . .

  6. Caroline says:

    Jana, thanks for this great post. Since I’ve come to know you, I’ve become much more interested in eco-living. I’m still a failure at it in a lot of ways, but I’ve made improvements which I’m proud of. (By the way, I scored an 18 🙁 )

    -I adopt animals from rescue groups
    -I try to buy organic when I see the option
    – I am very good at recycling all paper goods that I want to throw away
    – I am cutting down on my meat intake – difficult for me since I don’t eat many vegetables
    – I take things to Good Will that are still usable
    – I occassionally use freecycle
    – I now get books from the library rather than buy

    My major goals in the immediate future are to cut out even more meat from my diet, start composting (Jana, will you teach me?), and start regularly going to our farmers’ market.

  7. Caroline says:

    By the way, Deborah, best of luck with your job decision. A tough call. I also commuted a bit with my last job (35-45 minute drive). Now I drive 10 miles (and work part time!) and I’m much happier.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    I’m with Deborah, I’m horrified by my number. Since I’ve become a SAHM, I’ve been trying to be better about recycling, making it to our farmer’s market every week, and walking places whenever possible, but other than that, I can’t think of what else to do.

    I figure I have some power as a consumer, so I’d like to shop at stores that support “greener” living, but I haven’t been able to figure out what those are (other than Trader Joe’s). Any ideas?

  9. jana says:


    Do you have a space where you can have a garden? Even at Trader Joe’s you often have a choice between organic and non, and you can choose the former. Also, you can reduce, or eliminate, meat from your diet and support locally-owned vegetarian restaurants when you eat out.

    Do you have Mother’s or Wild Oats Markets in your area? They have a much wider range of organic and earth-friendly products than TJs.

    Just a few ideas….

  10. harijan says:

    Whew, Emily is going to be sad that she bugged me about coming to post on the Ex2 blog site.

    I just built 6 garden boxes last week, with these we will have two rotating on compost and four producing food for all but the hottest time of the year. I hope someday to install solar panels on the roof to lower cooling costs, and make our home a power generator instead of a power taker. But none of this really matters.

    I am an ardent environmentalist, a zealot even, but I have to stop for a moment when I see posts like this one and wonder where we went wrong.

    I will start with my background so that people have plenty of ammunition to discredit me and wash away my comments with a flush or guilt-deferring rationalization. I did my undergraduate work in plant ecology, after Emily and I got married we moved to an Audubon ranch in South East Arizona so I could work as a research assistant for an eco-restoration research group. Before marriage and mission I was active with Earth First, I considered Monkey Wrench Gang the Bible of environmentalism, and felt that Silent Spring was a lame sob story. I secretly harbored dreams of freeing the Colorado River, and I kept a special key on my key ring for every SUV that I passed. It was my sincere belief that environmental terrorism was necessary to force the Right to an environmentally progressive negotiation with the Left.

    I still believe most of this is true. However, I have realized some critical points that complicate the issue considerably.

    1. The environmental movement is barking up the wrong tree. Strict population control laws are the best, and only solution to the environmental “problem”.
    a. Sure, less consumption at the individual level means more people can live, but that 4.5 acre footprint number is shrinking every day as the world population increases. At some point the 4.5 becomes 0.5 and then 0.1, in our lifetime we will see less than one acre of land per individual at the current growth rates. No matter how much we conserve, without population control, we are all fighting a losing battle, and I am not talking a losing, like we can postpone it by recycling. I am talking it is hopeless, too late, and the support to do what must be done simply does not exist.

    2. Environmentalist are often inherently conflicted. Do you want to improve the quality of life for third world people? Or save the environment? As a country or region improves the quality of life for its people it also increases the per capita consumption of those citizens. Indeed quality of life cannot be improved without increasing consumption.

    There is an inverse to this as well. As quality of life goes up, birth rates go down. Not one 1st world country has a positive birth rate, yet virtually every 3rd world country is organically growing. We consume more, but are also putting few users into the system.

    3. Lastly, the terms “saving the environment” or “environmental activist” are such lies. There is no such thing. The earth decides when we have done too much damage, and removes us from the system, or reduces our numbers to a non-impact level, we cannot harm the earth.

    We can alter ecosystems, and change weather patterns, we can even heat the earth up a few degrees. But when it is all said and done, the earth will decide when enough is enough, and then we, along with numerous other organisms will be brought into balance.

    This will not happen globally, it will happen region by region. Hurricanes may make the South Eastern U.S. uninhabitable. Global warming could do the same to Phoenix and Las Vegas. Rising sea levels can wipe out Florida, Coastal California, and several small island-nations. The earth takes care of itself, the environmental movement at its core is only a complex self-preservation effort.

    Can we do anything about this doomsday scenario? Yes, stop having babies, mandatory sterilization at age 30, mandatory sterilization for convicted criminals, and strict birth rate controls. However, this will never happen, even the mention of it will disgust almost everyone. Few will be open to the idea, and fewer will agree with the theory. There are no business leaders or politicians to support population control because a capitalist economy assumes population growth. Without population growth the economy collapses unless consumers use more per capita.

    Instead of trying to find out what our footprint is so that we can shift that guilt to the edge of the plate for a few weeks. Start thinking seriously about how many kids we want. In America if we have two children you are significantly above the national average (1.7 offspring for every woman{sorry that’s the way they track the stats}), by having two kids, no matter how carefully we raise them, no matter how environmentally aware the next generation is, they will be taking more from the environment by shear numbers than we can ever conserve through footprint management.

    Follow the math, if we must live on a 4.5 footprint now, and we average three children for every two adults, the next generation is now 50% larger, but no new land has been created. The footprint for our children drops to 3 acres per person, then down to 2 acres for our grandchildren. What is the bare minimum that we need to live? As an interspecies example, Bears need 100 acres each, wolves 75 acres, and even an ant colony needs 1 acre to thrive.

    Nathaniel Curtis
    4th of 5 kids
    Planning on having three children (well two, but Emily wants three, and she ultimately decides no matter what).
    Driver of a 4wd poor gas mileage vehicle
    18 ecofootprint thingee
    Self realized hypocrite.
    But at least I do not have a pro-environment bumper sticker.

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