A One Earth Lifestyle

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?)

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8 thoughts on “A One Earth Lifestyle

  1. Tasha says:

    4.52 earths, bah. I actually do pretty well with the housing, food, and goods and services. Living in a relatively small house (for the USA) and growing our own garden helps. But the carbon footprint – yikes. 50K+ miles of annual international air travel really hurts.
    The scary thing is, even if I play around with the calculator to input my ‘ideal’ lifestyle, while staying realistic about what’s possible (ie, I’m probably never going to be able to do completely without a car, given the way things are set up in this country), I still only come down to 2 earths. That’s depressing.

    • superplexa says:

      Yeah, it’s disturbingly difficult to live a One Earth life in the US, even if you’re committed to it. I played around with that thing a bit. You can get down to .77 Earths if you live with another person in a <1000sq.ft. house entirely powered by solar and wind (or not powered at all) and heated by biomass, your only motorized transit is on trains, you have a 2000sq.ft. garden and buy everything else from farmers markets, and you never replace anything until you absolutely have to.

  2. I took one of those quizzes a couple of years ago and I was floored by the results. We only have one car (a hybrid, mind you), we live in a small condo with only one shower, have no lawn and only succulents, live very close to work, get our veggies from a CSA, don’t eat meat, and STILL we had a humongous footprint. It’s crazy difficult to get down to a One Earth situation. I’m going to take the test again as a reminder of the little things we CAN do…

    • superplexa says:

      Yeah, it really is hard, unless you’re willing to totally forgo most of what we consider “modern society.” And even that’s not always an option: you’ve got to be able to find land, or someplace to live and grow your own food and whatnot. Still, baby steps… I hope your quiz is a little better this time than it was last time.

  3. Nikki says:

    Yikes, 3.67 Earths. I have to wonder if there’s even enough space on the planet for everyone to have one of those 2000′ gardens?

    • superplexa says:

      Probably. But on fertile soil? How would you feel if you were one of the people who got a 2000sq ft garden in Antarctica?

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