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Entries in Ecology (1)

Tuesday
Feb272018

Ecological Footprints

I’m taking a fascinating course this semester in my Executive Education program at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and for an assignment this week, we took an online survey to calculate our personal ecological footprint. Basically, the survey results tell us:

When is your personal Overshoot Day?

How many planets do we need if everybody lives like you?

The survey is a free tool thanks to the Global Footprint Network, an international nonprofit organization that was founded in 2003 to enable a sustainable future where all people have the opportunity to thrive within the means of one planet. 

Our mission is to help end ecological overshoot by making ecological limits central to decision-making.

Our vision is that all people live well, within the means of nature.

Before I took the survey, I smugly thought, “I expect to have a very low ecological footprint, given that I live in a densely efficient city with a short commute—and I eat very little meat. You’re going to confirm that you’re ahead of the curve, Bad Wound!”

My results were a bit shocking. I’m definitely no model student, at least when it comes to sustainability. 

My ecological calendar would mean that I would have a great year up until about Earth Day (ironically), but shortly thereafter, my days are numbered.

And if everyone lived like me, we would need 3.2 planets.

Shoooooot.

Of course, as it turns out, I travel a lot on airplanes. I live in the US, which means that my everyday lifestyle comes at a high ecological price.

But thankfully, the site has plenty of positive and helpful information about how to reduce my carbon footprint and helped me think about the interconnections of planetary ecology, as well as my role in the ecosystems that I inhabit.

My class assignment response is below, if it’s of interest. Of course, you should take the survey for yourself and see what you find—the results might shock you too!


Assignment: Write a two-page report discussing your results. What changes could you make to your current lifestyle to decrease your footprint?

City

With 70-80% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, smart urban planning and development strategies are crucial to managing our resources. Visit your city’s website and challenge your city leaders to support sustainability policies.

San Francisco is a wonderful place to call home, particularly because of our local leadership’s commitment to our local environment. The San Francisco Environment Department has widely shared a strategic plan that covers 2016-2020, which focuses on key initiatives in the following areas (all of which include behavioral actions/solutions):

1)      Promote Healthy Communities & Ecosystems

  • Adopt safer alternatives to harmful products and materials.
  • Support efforts to advance building standards and codes that reduce environmental and health impacts.
  • Increase the size, health, and biodiversity of our urban forest, natural areas, community gardens and open space.

2)      Achieve a Carbon-Free Future

  • Improve the performance of our built environment by promoting energy-efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation.
  • Reduce the use of gasoline, diesel and natural gas fuels in transportation modes.

3)      Strengthen Community Resilience

  • Support San Francisco’s ability to address and overcome the impacts of climate change, such as advancing energy security and the Sea Level Rise Action Plan.
  • Keep small businesses and residents in San Francisco by minimizing utility costs, connecting communities with resources, and creating economic opportunities that support a Green Economy.

4)      Eliminate Waste

  • Achieve zero waste and work towards closing landfills serving San Francisco.
  • Prevent food waste, increase participation in recycling and composting programs, and reduce consumption of single-use items.

5)      Amplify Community Action

  • Build a shared culture of environmental stewardship across San Francisco.
  • Provide residents with information and resources to protect our city and planet.

See the strategic plan: http://sfmayor.org/strategy-and-performance/environment

Energy

Renewable energy is a direct path to reducing your Ecological Footprint and addressing climate change. Can you take transit, bicycle or walk instead of driving solo at least once a month? Once a week?

As part of the survey, I was unaware (and curious!) about the energy portfolio for my residence in San Francisco, so I looked to the website of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), my local utility. I was pleasantly surprised to see that “Nearly 70 percent of the electricity we provide to our customers comes from sources that are greenhouse-gas free. In fact, PG&E’s electricity is approximately two-thirds cleaner than the industry average, as measured by PG&E’s carbon dioxide emissions rate.” According to the PG&E website:

About 70 percent of the electricity we deliver is a combination of renewable and greenhouse gas-free resources. For example, the power mix delivered in 2016 included:

  • Non-emitting nuclear generation (24 percent)
  • Large hydroelectric facilities (12 percent)
  • Eligible renewable resources, such as wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and small hydro (33 percent).
  • Natural gas/other (17 percent)
  • Unspecified power (14 percent). This electricity is not traceable to specific sources by any auditable contract trail.

However, I suspect that my major contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and my overall carbon footprint are highly based on my reliance on airline travel. Unfortunately, my job requires frequent travel (mostly domestically) that results in many hours on an airplane. I would like to find ways to reduce this impact, but I feel limited in my ability to impact this situation. Maybe this is why carbon offsets are so important? I know, there’s no perfect solution except not traveling. Let’s Skpe!

Food

Diet and cutting food waste are powerful sustainability levers. Can you be a smarter shopper and reduce food waste? Can you try a new vegetarian recipe once a month? Once a week?

According to the survey website, “Diet and cutting food waste are powerful sustainability levers.” The site urges us to examine resource inefficiency in food production and food waste as areas for change. In my life, my mostly pescatarian diet is largely local and I do my best not to waste food (a consequence of my childhood poverty is that I almost never waste food—even when I am full). Thankfully, I live in a region with lots of delicious local foods.

Population

Addressing population size is essential to creating a sustainable future for all within our planet’s ecological budget. You can choose the size of your family to affect our long-term Footprint. Support women’s rights and access to family planning.

My lifestyle is not based on any intentions to have children, so my family size will remain small. I can do more to promote women’s rights (something that is a challenge, but very important), but I firmly believe in empowering women and promoting feminism, especially as it relates to family planning for a sustainable future.