What if everyone in the world had the same standard of living we enjoy in the U.S.? Couldn't happen, as Jim White, Director of the University of Colorado's Environmental Studies Program, once told me. He said the resources just aren't there. Jason Venetoulis, writing at SustainableBusiness.com, describes a method of analysis that gets at the problem: the Ecological Footprint, "a tool that measures the land area required to support an individual, business, community or nation, providing for its needs and absorbing its wastes." We've discussed the ecological footprint before:
As we mentinoned in previous posts, you can calculate your own ecological footprint at sites like http://www.myfootprint.org/. A sustainable footprint would be 1.88 hectares per person, but the average footprint in the U.S. is 9.57. I calculated mine, and it's an embarrassing 8.9. Factors include how you source food, your usual method of transportation and, if you drive a car, its fuel efficiency. Says Venetoulis,
The main culprit in the US's oversized Ecological Footprint is energy consumption. Fossil fuels used for electricity and transportation make up the largest segment of America's Ecological Footprint while use of crop and pasture land are the largest contributors to the footprints of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.I realized after my conversation with Jim White a couple of years ago that I'd asked the wrong question. I should have asked how we in the U.S. can approach a more reasonable and sustainable standard of living.
Venetoulis presents Santa Monica as a case in point. The city has worked to reduce its footprint by establishing a sustainability program, tracking progress, and taking substantive actions.
Between 1990-2000, the city reduced its footprint by 5% (167 square miles). On a per person basis, Santa Monica's Footprint dropped from 21.4 acres in 1990 to 20.9 acres in 2000. Santa Monica's per capita Footprint is about the same as the average in San Francisco Bay Area, despite the Bay Area's less carbon intensive energy mix. It is lower than the average Footprint in the Ojai Valley (23 acres) and Sarasota County (32 acres).Santa Monica reduces its footprint by using renewables and boosting recycling efforts.
It's really good to hear efforts being made at the city-level. Changing personal habits are good, but most people might not do it unless there is support for the idea at higher levels, where small changes can make a big and much more noticeable impact. Now if only they took energy conservation as seriously in the Midwest!