Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ecological Footprint Quiz

The title is the link, I'm still not used to that. Just in case, here it is again:


My footprint is 16 acres, or 3.7 planets (if everyone on the planet lived like me, we would need almost 4 planets!) and actually, it's my impression that that's a bit low for a north american. Once my sweetie moves in with me, it will go down a lot. :)

Of course, these are somewhat random questions. I don't think that if you have 8 people in your house because you've borne 6 children, that should actually reduce your footprint, but it would on this test. Among numerous other things that would "hone" the test, but make it longer and more complicated.

I'm a vegetarian, and don't eat animal products (cheese, eggs) as much as some. I don't own a car, and generally get about by bike. I live in a duplex, in a 900 sf apartment. But there are so many things I don't, or even would go so far as to say I feel I can't do to "reduce my footprint". Be vegan, share my house with 3 people (there are two bedrooms, two couples really wouldn't be overload by world standards!), never use motorized transportation (I realize I think I still never go a whole week without riding in a car)

I have considered getting a woodstove, to help with heat, and I also have a rainbarell (which collects some of the runoff from my roof, so that I can water with it when it's dry) and just bought a front loading washing machine (for more than twice the price of a "normal" one) My house could really use insulating, I think, but the expense has put me off thus far.

I'd love to have a washing machine like Carl's, but alas, I share it with a tenant, who I think would be less than thrilled. (Plus I don't have a clue how to make one, and lack interns!)

But it's funny to me, that the american solution is almost always to spend money, "hey! this is what you could buy to take care of that!!!" - what to think about that?

There's another test here that is for people living in Ontario (though you can adjust your answers pretty easily) that has the interesting addition of the question "how much of the planet do you want to leave for the rest of the species?" - the most you can grant them is 40%, which doesnt' seem like much, but it makes your footprint even bigger!



earthfreak said...

I just redid the quiz with 2 people in my apartment, which reduces my footprint to 2.5 planets! You save a whole planet by adding a person to your household, wow!


earthfreak said...

drat! no one wants to talk about anything but God and dead quakers!

I find questions of how we relate to the earth and its other inhabitants to be central to my quaker faith.

Perhaps I need to figure out how to post about that. It seems so obvious, I don't know if I can....

Liz Opp said...

I tend to avoid these quizzes because they are so depressing rather than inspirational, at least for me.

I noticed that much of the Quaker blogosphere has gone pretty quiet in the last couple of days... Also, a handful of Yearly Meetings are convening this weekend into next week:

New York
Ohio Valley
Iowa Conservative (starts Tuesday night).

Not sure if that has anything to do with it. (There is a calendar of events at FGC's website.)

Liz, The Good Raised Up

earthfreak said...

Ah, yes, that might be it (all those yearly meetings!)

I find this quiz in particular maddening because the first time that I took it I assumed I would do "well" on it - and I guess I did, I apparently use less (or they think that I do) than the average american, but I still use more than 3 times as much as is sustainable.

I would find it more helpful if it would give you a breakdown (eg:"you use half a planet eating packaged food, and 1/4 of a planet driving to work every day") Not that it would be a big ego boost, but I find, for example, that the most readily available change I could make is to have a roomate. I "should" proabably commit to having one, even when I'm single, but I am used to the luxury of not "having to"

I think it would be great, overall, if it was framed more like "how much of a positive impact could you have by changing this?" - in this format, it not only focuses on how bad it is, but also doesn't offer concrete suggestions about how to make it better.

In any case, I find it a really useful tool. I think it would also be nice if they pointed out that probably no one in the United States actually has a "footprint" that represents "their share" - and also how inaccurate it is. I suppose if you live in alaska and eat meat that you've hunted at every meal, and few vegetables, your impact is much lower than a pure vegetarian diet. (along with those of us who haven't added children to the planet, and thereby have fewer children in our home, etc)

Plain Foolish said...

Well, as my folks headed to services this weekend, I spent the time in the blackberry patch...

I admit that I tend to find the quizzes depressing - and then there's the whole problem with bias towards people with children, etc.

earthfreak said...


I have to admit I love filling out forms. (well, if it's new information) I have a weird thing for quizzes that I know the answer to :)

But, I also wonder what WILL work, This is important stuff, and while it's depressing (or can be) I belive it has to be addressed in SOME way, of course filling out a quiz and finding out it says that you're not good enough isn't really doing much, it's about what we do next.

I like your links, PF, to really small houses, and ideas about living lightly on the land. I would really like to find ways to adjust my life so that it was more in keeping with what I hope it will be.

I find myself disturbed by american tendencies to:

- buy things to achieve "eco-friendliness" (the other day it occurred to me that I've heard folks complain that they're not rich enough to buy priuses, so they can't step lightly that way - though I think it might be stepping lighter to keep an old car running well, and I know it would be to do away with owning a car!)

- feeling "self righteous" about what we do manage to do (I manage not to have a car, and that's partly because I'm so "committed" - but it's also because I'm cheap and poor, and because circumstances (and friends) help me out a lot) - how to hold a value and even live up to it without uselessley judging others for not.

- the difficulty of understanding both the scope of the problem and what we can do to actually make a difference.

-which leads into, not seeing the environment as paramount - like, it's good to recycle, but only if it's convenient, I need to drive, and I'll buy a prius if I can, and I dont' want some other expensive goody more, etc. (I don't do this (much!) with driving, but boy do I do it with food - I eat so much packaged and snack-foody stuff, I can't imagine having a real "low impact" diet (even though I'm veg)

Just some random musings

Plain Foolish said...

Part of it for me is that this weekend was a combination of really close to the land and really far from it. Over the weekend, my diet was primarily locally grown - likely mostly organic. I got to gather wild food and share it. And yet, in order to do this and to spend time with family, I drove several hours.

My current housing is probably lower impact in many ways than my fantasy housing - I live in a small apartment in a high rise, and yet I know that said small housing (with some land) would be more conducive to keeping my food closer to the land, and it's certainly better for building community.

Plus, I value my privacy a fair bit. I lived pretty far out, and that leads to wanting more "personal space" than is typically provided for in apartment living. Do I want to build a new small house? Maybe. I'd rather find an old one that's affordable.

And that leads me to economic justice - if Appalachia had economic opportunities, I might not have left. I did stay pretty close, after all - only two hours from West Virginia.

Plain Foolish said...

I've also noted the tendency to want to "buy goodness" in the sense of - Oh, well, I want a new little car and look, Lehman's has this nifty...

Sigh. And the worst part is that I do it too, and I know it.

earthfreak said...

I totally think Lehman's is really dangerous. I don't think I've ever actually bought anything there, but it does seem to be a place to shop to feel "earthy" or something. I drool over the catalogues every now and then....

I now have to take more issue with the "quiz" that I posted. Though it DOES actually have a "what can I do now?" section at the end. (where you can enter what you do now, and what your goal is - and it will tell you how much that will help) but I also filled it out inaccurately, being as eco-friendly as I could imagine (eating vegan, all local, not driving, etc - 4 people in my house) and I still needed 1.5 planets. Now if that's "true" by their calculations, that's fine, but it does leave one feeling rather hopeless.

I think that cohousing and communal ownership of more stuff (like washing machines and lawnmowers - or better yet, no lawns! only gardens!) would be a very productive, and much more challenging step than we're set up to think about. Sure you can try to drive less, but if you already have a job and a house and they're far apart, to really change it dramatically is a pretty big order, same with housing. It's one reason that I bought a duplex, and I do think that freestanding houses in Minnesota is just a silly idea heat-wise, but that housing is there, I can't imagine tearing down single family homes and building condos is a great idea (though if blocks could get together and share tools, cars, etc, that would have a big impact)

It is a hard choice, too, when we live a society that "depends" on "economic development" - that you can't live in rural west virginia terribly easily. I can't imagine not living in a big city, but according to "The Long Emergency" that's going to turn out to be a bad thing. (We have way too many people, way too removed from farmland for it to work with a lot less oil)

Plain Foolish said...

Oh, I wouldn't want it all to be gardens - where would my woodlands and wilds be then? Most lawns, though, annoy the spit out of me. They're usually monocropped with a species not meant for total dominance. I'd much rather see a mixture of pasturage, gardens, orchards, wilds, etc. I happen to like clover, sweet and sour, wild onions, dandelions, etc. and would be sorry to see them go. My personal preference for keeping grass short? Goats or sheep. And watch where you step. (and yes, I know you didn't mean to totally eliminate wild land, but some folks forget.)

And part of what I don't like about those quizzes is that I feel they make the best the enemy of the good. (Oh, well, even if I moved 3 people and a goat into my apartment, I still need 2 planets, or whatever. Since I'll never get there, anyway, even if I pledge myself to living off of wasteland, I might as well live in a McMansion on converted farmland...)

And, as I mentioned before, what land is that acreage measured in?

earthfreak said...

Shoot! I just wrote a comment and something weird happened and it disappeared. Computers are not so much my thing....

I agree about making the best an enemy of the good (it took me a while to figure that out!)

I just had to clarify that I'm all for woodlands and wilds. I was falling into the trap of thinking only of my own environment. I live in the city, on a 40x100 ft lot, surrounded for miles, almost entirely by other 40x100ft lots, almost all of them covered in grass (and houses!) and not an insignificant number of those covered by chemlawn.

Imagine if all (or only half!) of them were all prairie restorations or vegetable gardens. I am working on my own space, and just harvested my first good tomatoes! (the first ones overall had some sort of rot - I didnt' say I was good at this!)

I have mint and sage and lemon balm in the boulevard - not sure how they'll take to the salt on roads in the winter :(

And am hoping eventually to really not have any grass (though I might always around the cherry tree - which right now is so small it doesn't share anything!)

what land is that acreage measured in?

I'm not sure what that means, but I have wondered how many acres they're counting, total - like the whole planet? the arable part? what we're using now? What we could use without driving more species to extinction? I did note that at the very end somewhere there's a question about "how much would you leave for other species/nature?" - the higher the amount you choose, the bigger your footprint is (well, not in acres, but in how many planets we would need to all live like you and still have that much left over)

There's a distressing thought.

It's a little weird to live in the US where we not only have the option of taking "more than our share" - we almost dont' have the option NOT to.

Plain Foolish said...

What I meant by that is that, for example, Maryland farmland (which is being paved over for more big houses) will grow much more food than say... oh, Arizona desert. I would take up far more acreage of land in West Virginia (where much of the land is not suited for crops) than I would in Illinois. My water usage would be completely unsustainable in a desert environment, but completely sustainable for a mountain cabin. On the other hand, I could likely gather more electricity (leaving out the sustainability of the batteries)in a desert than on a shady mountain.

earthfreak said...

Oh, yes, good points. I'm sure it's not that complex. I think I mentioned that I hope that they are using some "conservative" measure" - using only arable land at least, hopefully leaving what is currently wild wild.

But it's a terribly complex issue, I doubt that it actually can be measured (there is no option, for example, for having electricity but being entirely self sustaining)

I think that the main purpose is to point out how most of us in the US are using more than is sustainable. I believe this to be true, even as I don't fully know how it could be changed, or if there is any hope for it.

I would like to see us start a discussion list about such things - from small, "tame" actions to really radical and large ones, but I haven't found much interest in such a thing among quakers (and would like to see a more contained thing, as internet lists get so crazy so easily.)


Plain Foolish said...

I think rather than "actions", either small or large, we want to look at how we can impact the total system. Actions speak to me of a one-time thing, rather than a deeper change. How can we change the world so that people don't need to use cars so much? How can we encourage communities to allow or even promote gardening instead of lawns? For example, a friend of mine was served with an order to cut down the "weeds" in her lawn when she attempted to grow mints, spring onions, etc. in her front lawn. (The back yard was too shady.) She finally enclosed them with a little decorative brick thingy, and put out a bit of grass, but neither she nor the HOA is totally happy with the whole thing.

Liz Opp said...

So out of curiosity, I took the quiz three times, keeping all my quantifiable answers the same (in other words, just changing locations):

The first time, I said I lived near Melbourne, Australia. I got a result of Footprint=8.7; Planets needed=4.8

The second time, I said I lived in Minneapolis, USA. Footprint=27; Planets needed=6

The third time, I said I lived near Winnipeg, Canada. Footprint=10.9; Planets needed=6.1

Go figure!

But I hung in there and looked at the links on the very last page. There's a link that's called "About the Footprint Quiz," and it includes an explanation about how the surrounding communities and governments can impact one's score:

...There are some portions of your Footprint that are not the direct result of your consumption habits. For example, each resident of a city is ‘responsible’ for a portion of the city’s infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and government offices, regardless of whether the resident uses those services. In addition, some options that could make your Footprint smaller are not available to you as a result of choices on the part of local decision makers...

...Ecological Footprints document a given population's consumption and waste production expressed in biologically productive land and ocean areas necessary to maintain these services...

So I take this to mean that there are enormous OTHER factors that the average resident has no control over--I think of bringing bananas into the northern-most states of the U.S., or being so hugely dependent on foreign oil.

If I am interpreting the above explanation correctly, it means that these production and shipping costs create a sort of "default baseline" for the residents of each country. So my baseline for being a resident of Australia might be a good deal lower than my baseline for being a resident in the U.S., thus corresponding to a footprint of "only" 8.7 for the former and 27 for the latter.


Liz, The Good Raised Up