Two years ago, Worldchanging listed “Human Footprint” in its Holiday Gift Guide, but as far as I could tell no one here had offered a review of the film. Due to a recent flu that left me bed bound, I was able to watch the movie and I thought it would be of interest to Worldchanging readers if I offered a bit more information about it.
In true National Geographic fashion the film is a visual feast, with both captivating still life images and dramatic video sequences used to illustrate the vast quantity of stuff the average American uses over the course of a lifetime (where a lifetime = 77 years 9 months). The narrative is simple: the film follows an American boy and girl from birth to death and shows their average consumptive footprint. For example, at the beginning we learn that the average baby requires 1,898 pints of crude oil and 4.5 trees just to make their diapers; and then as teenagers the boy and girl develop hygiene habits that will lead to the use of over 156 toothbrushes, 389 tubes of toothpaste, 656 bars of soap, and 198 bottles of shampoo over their lives; and as adults it's estimated that the young man and woman will live in a 2,000 square foot home and move about 10 times, with each home requiring 13,837ft of lumber, 17 tons of concrete, 400 lbs of copper piping, and 30 gallons of paint to construct. That's a lot of awesome data, and the strength of the film is in how it visually demonstrates these abstract footprint values. As a primarily visual learner, this documentary really helped me to see how much stuff I potentially use in my life, both directly and indirectly.
Here are a selection of screen shots of some of the more impressive visual sequences that I took while watching the movie online at Snag Films:
(Screenshot of sequence showing a lifetime of showers with 28,433 rubber duckies.)
(Screenshot of a lifetime's worth of appliances put on a wall.)
(Screenshot of sequence where a typical sports shoe is dismantled to highlight how many parts, materials and resources one shoe requires.)
(Screenshot of sequence where a Ford car's parts are removed and arranged on a map of the world to show the global scope of the resource extraction and production of the car.)
In addition to simply making visual the hard-to-visualize large quantities of food and products I potentially consume over my lifetime, I thought the best parts of the "Human Footprint" film were in the scenes where they reveal the backstories of products or otherwise break down the sub-footprints of the things we use (see the above images of the dismantled car and sneaker, for examples). As the movie narrator says, "Without even thinking about it Americans are tapped into a global infrastructure." This placement within a global infrastructure is of course true for all people and not just Americans. Hopefully after watching this film more people will think more about the global infrastructure within which they're enmeshed.
The "Human Footprint" does not make a a strong argument about how you can reduce your carbon footprint or human footprint, but as a compilation of data coupled with dramatic and eye-catching images, I think the film serves as a good introduction to how big an impact our direct and indirect consumption of goods and services has on the planet. This knowledge can in turn lead to more solutions for revealing product back stories like in Patagonia's The Footprint Chronicles project, or in providing eco-labels on products that show the materials, processes, transportation, energy, and water used in production, or through increased research into and mapping of supply chains, such as with Sourcemap and Tacoshed.
For more information on ecological footprints and product back stories, see the Worldchanging archives...
Previous stories about ecological footprints at Worldchanging include (in chronological order):
Thanks, just ordered the DVD online based on this review. Looks like it could be a great educational/introductory video when we do workshops/presentations on this topic specifically - i.e. measuring one's "footprint."
Thanks for sharing, will try to look for the video online. Also, I think it would be interesting to compare the consumptive footprint of people from different nations, and we'll see how we American has been exploiting the world resources. ;)