Every human being has an effect on our planet regardless of their lifestyle. From the most rural herder to a socialite in a modern city, we all have an impact on our planet. The size and nature of this impact, however, varies, and this is the key issue of our ecological footprints.
An ecological footprint is an attempt to quantify, in a simple measurement, the global hectare (which is the same size as a regular hectare), but factors in the average bioproductivity for all productive land and sea areas on Earth–the total impact of someone’s lifestyle on the planet. An ecological footprint is similar to a carbon footprint, which measures the amount of CO2 someone’s lifestyle generates, but is more holistic in not narrowly focusing on one aspect (like CO2), instead offering a better overall picture.
Calculating your own ecological footprint can be daunting. A simple internet search for “ecological footprint calculator” reveals a wealth of different calculators, some fairly simple and others requiring an in-depth analysis. The Ecological Footprint calculator I used was from the University of Michigan’s Global Change Program and required in-depth data collection, allowing for a more accurate calculation. For a truly accurate estimate, you will need to carefully track your consumption and lifestyle habits for several weeks–the longer, the better–and factor in events such as vacations that may occur outside of the short time period you were tracking consumption. The beginning of the school year, when we still have plenty of time before tests and assignments are due, is the perfect time to start recording this information. An excellent way to do this is to make daily journal entries to track your consumption, waste, fuel usage, and more, using the data entry fields from your chosen calculator to guide your journaling.
Regardless of which calculator you use, the process of recording and thinking about our consumption should raise questions about our relationship with the natural world. When I first looked over the spreadsheet I was using, I was somewhat intimidated by all the information I needed to gather; however, as I journaled and collected information, I became more aware of my personal environmental impact. Often, when we are attending University, we think of what we want to do in life and how we want to have a positive impact on those around us, but do we also factor in the impact of our lives on the planet, which will one day be home to future generations?
This is something we can all take to heart. Rather than thinking of “the environment” or “Earth” in abstract terms, we must think of our own impact and not merely the collective impact caused by billions of human beings. Together we have a massive footprint, but that great impact consists of billions of individual footprints, and while it is easy to talk about the things other people or large countries could change to make our environment more sustainable, meaningful change must start on an individual level with each of us making real, personal lifestyle changes. No matter what number the calculator ultimately gives us, this is the lesson we should take to heart: what will my impact be?