One Earth

Published April 16, 2012 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon an interesting website.  It invited me to answer a questionnaire about the type of lifestyle I lead, and then it would provide an estimate of my ecological footprint – in other words, the amount of land it takes to sustain my lifestyle.

I was intrigued, so I decided to try it.  The questions covered things like:

  • What kind of car do I drive?  How much do I drive it each year?
  • In what type of house do I live?  How much energy does it consume?  How many people live there with me?
  • What kind of food do I eat (IE how much local food and how much meat)?  How much food do I waste?
  • Do I travel by air?  If so, how much?

I answered every question as accurately as I could and then hit ‘enter’ with a bit of confidence – maybe even a trace of cockiness.  After all, I’m “the green guy”, living the sustainable lifestyle.  So I was especially shocked when it gave me a blunt report card: if everyone on the planet lived like me, it would take four planets to sustain us.  Four planets!

True, it was only a website, and I found myself hoping its underlying calculations were wrong.  But I couldn’t escape the nagging sense that if it was anywhere near accurate, that bottom line was an unflattering indictment of my lifestyle.  It forced me to re-evaluate things, and set me on a journey of doing whatever I can to lessen my footprint on the planet.  That journey continues today, with many steps taken and many still to come.

But since completing that web questionnaire, I’ve discovered something called the Living Planet Report.  It’s a global assessment prepared every two years by the World Wildlife Fund, and it uses a scientific approach to measure the ecological footprint of people in more than 150 countries. 

Here’s the sobering news: Canada doesn’t fare especially well.  According to the 2010 report, if everyone on the planet lived like a Canadian, we would need 3.5 planets.  Three and a half Earths.  I guess that website wasn’t so far off after all; and my footprint is pretty much our footprint.  (Just last week, Environment Minister Peter Kent confirmed that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions were 17% higher in 2010 than they were in 1990.  That’s higher, not lower.)

Problem: there are no 3.5 Earths.  There is only one. 

So what to do?  Perhaps the best counsel comes from the three Rs – more specifically, the first: reduce

In spite of our gripes about winter weather or gas prices, we Canadians live a pretty good lifestyle – one that is envied the world over.  There are literally millions and millions of people out there who would gladly trade places with a Canadian – any Canadian – in an instant.

But we consume a lot of resources, and it’s increasingly clear that what we consider ‘normal’ – driving whatever we want wherever we want whenever we want; cranking up the heat instead of pulling on a sweater; taking winter vacations in the Caribbean; eating strawberries from Mexico in January; buying lots of stuff and producing lots of trash – is simply not sustainable. 

Sure, we can continue doing what we are doing for a bit longer – but that will only hasten and intensify the climate change and resource depletion challenges we will bestow upon future generations.  It seems to me that’s an odd way to show our kids how much we love them.

In Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”, a remorseful Once-ler advises, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot; nothing is going to get better – it’s not.”

So perhaps that’s something for each of us to think about as April 22 nears.  Reduce, in every way possible.  After all, it’s Earth Day – not 3.5 Earths Day.