I’m one of those people who worries a lot about climate change and imminent environmental catastrophe. Sometimes, I get accused of exaggeration and excessive doomsaying, and sometimes my fears are so totally irrational that even I know they’re ridiculous. (When I was 9 or so, I got a lesson on what would happen if the Earth didn’t turn on its axis. Somehow, I got it into my head that one of the effects of pollution would be to cause the Earth to stop turning, and for years, I work up sweating from nightmares of an earth that was on fire on one side and frozen solid on the other. That’s probably not our biggest concern.) But leaving that aside, we know we’re using resources faster than the Earth can replenish them, and we know we’re producing waste faster than the Earth can process and reabsorb it. That’s not a system that can keep going indefinitely.
So I’ve started thinking about what I can seriously do NOW to contribute less to climate change. The Center for Sustainable Economy has a really cool website that lets you calculate your approximate ecological footprint. (Caution, the site doesn’t work in Firefox, so use IE or Safari). Once you’ve done the quiz, it tells you how many Earths we would need for everyone on the planet to live the same lifestyle you do. Since my ethical principles basically boil down to “don’t take more than your fair share,” that’s given me a wonderfully concrete goal: I want to live a One Earth lifestyle.
But I’m a depressingly long way from that. My current Ecological Footprint is 4.9 Earths. And there are a lot of things about my lifestyle that I can’t change yet. I live in a house with a huge carbon footprint. I’ll be moving soon (to something much smaller), but that will leave my current household using the same resources for two people that we’re currently using for three. My current job and living situation make lots of driving obligatory. (We have more or less no bus service, and the roads here are not conducive to cycling for someone as out-of-shape, inexperienced, and skittish as me). That will also, fortunately, be getting better soon.
But I want to start making concrete changes now. So I’ve decided to try an experiment. Instead of trying to become the perfect eco-conscious environmentalist overnight, I’m going to make one change each week, however small, that will reduce my ecological footprint. Last week, I starting shutting down my computer and turning off its power strip every night. This week, I’m setting a five-minute timer for showers (actually six — our water takes a LONG time to heat up). Next week’s goal is to start writing down anything I have an impulse to buy…I’ll look at it again after 30 days, and if I still want it, then I’ll consider buying it.
P.S. I do give what money I can to non-profits and political groups that are working on a political level to create more environmentally friendly laws, but the truth is, I don’t think we’re going to solve these problems (solely) through regulation, new laws, new technology, etc. I think our main hope is to learn to live smaller, more modest, more self-sufficient, simpler lives, so that’s where my focus is. (Actually, I think we are going to have to learn to live this way, so the question is, do we do it intentionally and learn to enjoy our simpler lives, or do we go kicking and screaming?)