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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Personal footprint goals

I had calculated my environmental footprint as part of an assignment for Global Change Biology back at Carleton, but I can't remember how it came out. There are a number of tools available online for calculating your environmental footprint, so I tried out ZeroFootprint.

All of these calculations are quite approximate (and many of my estimates of transportation, food, electricity, etc. are also approximate), but my carbon footprint comes out to 16.2 tons of carbon annually. My "ecological" footprint is 3.8 hectares/year. (How this second one is calculated is less clear to me, and I'm not sure if they interact.) For reference, the average American's carbon footprint is 13.1 tons, and the average ecological footprint is 6.3 hectares. So, despite the fact that I prefer to think of myself as environmentally aware, my carbon footprint is above average; I think a big part of my ecological footprint being low is that I don't eat a lot of meat, and generate relatively low amounts of garbage.

On my carbon footprint, the thing that really hurts me is air travel, which has huge carbon emissions. I flew a lot last year (Peru, Europe, Minnesota), and flying accounted for 6 tons out of my total 16. Other big sources were, not surprisingly, food and home energy use.

Since I'm already biking to work, one of the easier reductions is already factored in. But I've set the following modest goals for reducing my footprint:
  • Fly 50% less. This should actually be pretty easy, since I already wasn't planning to travel as much in the next year as I did in the past year.

  • Grow some of my own food. This will be pretty miniscule in the scheme of things, but we've already got garden beds, and it's satisfying, too.

  • Compost organic waste. Madeleine left a compost bin in the back yard, so this isn't too hard, either. I just have to make the effort to collect and take out the compost. Plus, synergy with growing my own food.

  • Put electronics with transformers/without "hard" power switches on power strips so they don't suck energy while they're not being used.

I post this in the hopes that having told other people, it will make me more likely to actually follow through. According to ZeroFootprint, these reductions come out to about a drop of about 3.5 tons (everything besides the flying is a pretty small change). Not that great, but enough to put me just under the average American.

EDIT: Some motivation for reducing your individual environmental impact from No Impact Man, who has some good thoughts about the false choice between individual and political change:
"Actually, in my optimism, I believe wholeheartedly that both how I vote and how I live influences how other people vote and how they live, at least if I'm willing to talk about it. Also, calling a politician up to tell them that I already try not to make waste is more powerful than opining that society shouldn't make waste. It all mingles and merges."

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