How many planets does it take to support my lifestyle?
The ecological footprint is an indicator of that. Simply put, how is our relationship with the planet? How many planets are needed to supply every individual
need? Officially this answer gives an indication of the Environmental Sustainability and the sustainability of individual lifestyles, organisations, goods and services, etc., meaning how are we insuring our children can meet their needs, just as we are meeting ours today?
Is the world developing in a Sustainable way? Is our development one that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (World Commission on Environment And Development, 1987)?
As part of my self- assessment, I took the “Ecological Footprint- quiz” from several sources on the internet, (among others from WWF, The Footprint Network, Islandwood.org and ecologicalfootprint.com). I thought that, the fact of being a vegetarian, rarely buying canned products, and living in a flat would save me. I was convinced that my lifestyle was a “very respectful to the environment”- one.
One that wouldn’t be consuming so much energy generated from fossil fuels. The results were very different, ranging between 2.47 and 3.6 planets (this depends on especially the available area, the country I had to choose and a slight difference between the questions asked). I will not discuss the accurateness of the calculators, but one fact is clear, one planet alone is not able to provide for my way of consumption. In other words, I use more than is available for me, especially in the area of shelter and services.
According to the WWF Living Planet Report (2014, p.10), the population of the Earth taken as a whole would need 1.5 Earths to provide for our way of living. In other words, it would take 1 year and 6 months for the earth to regenerate (provide sources and absorb the waste we produce) what we, as all inhabitants of the Earth, have used in one year. By 2050, this is expected to be 2 years (or 2 planets), if we don’t do anything.
Our ecological footprint is closely linked to the biocapacity of the Earth. Biocapacity is the amount of biologically productive area that is available to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste. The biocapacity and the ecological footprint can be compared to see if our ecological behavior is well balanced or not. The biocapacity is expressed in Global hectares per person and it depends on the amount of land, forrest and natural resources of a country. One is an “Ecological creditor” if ones biocapacity is larger than ones footprint. Is it the other way around? Than we are an “Ecological debtor”. In the latter case, we are dealing with Ecological overshoot, which means the percentage we use more than the earth can produce. Resources turn into waste faster than waste turns back into resources. The results: destroying forests, collapsing fisheries, more CO2 emissions (which contributes to climate change), less fresh water systems etc.
Esther uses as much as 3.6 planets.But we only have 1. I’m a clear case of overconsumption and would need serious steps to adjust my behaviour. I don’t think I can improve my recycling or will start buying second hand clothes. I could install some solar panels, or become vegan instead of vegetarian. I could also try to take the bicycle more instead of the car (during the weekend). But I don’t think only my contribution will have a significant impact. We need take individual action, and create a public demand and influence through political engagement, the business world, setting an ecological limit, and improvement or stimulation of green technologies in order to achieve large- scale change: to live within the earth’s bounds. Solution: Reduce, reuse and recycle. Increase biocapacity by the use of for example renewable energy, which would mean less fossil fuel consumption. Use less imported products (imagine the packaging, transport emissions of Co2.), use more public transportation and eat less meat….And at the supermarket, BYOB (bring your own bag).
How much do we have? Who uses what, when and where can we reduce? The answer to these questions can move us towards a more sustainable one- planet living.
Let’s all become a Green Ninja and learn some Cungfood.