I Leave a Heavy Footprint. How About You?

June 13, 2011
What does it take to get us to use less of the planet’s resources?

National Geographic scene from special on typical person in the worldLike many people, I keep magazines in the bathroom and work my way through them day by day. Recently I’ve been reading the National Geographic article titled “Can China Go Green?” and have been reminded of my contribution to the consumption of the world’s resources.

It is not surprising that China’s middle class is as anxious to have their toys as we are;  for example, as people move into newly renovated apartments, they want a “pretty, new fridge.” Before, people had a two-door one, and now they want a three-door. The average Shanghainese household already has 1.9 air conditioners, not to mention 1.2 computers.

In 2007 China had 22 cars for every 1,000 people, compared with 451 in the U.S. Clearly the Chinese consumer revolution has barely begun. And while no other country is investing so heavily in clean energy, no other country burns as much coal to fuel its economy. Yet we exceed them in the release of metric tons of CO2 per person.

Then I read a paragraph that struck me as particularly applicable to my own life:

Bill Valentino, a sustainability executive with the pharmaceutical giant Bayer who has long been based in Beijing, recently taught a high school class at one of the international schools. He had his students calculate their average carbon footprint, and they found that if everyone on the plant lived as they did, it would take two to four Earths’ worth of raw material to meet their needs. So they were already living unsustainable lives. Valentino — an expat American who flies often — then did the same exercise and found that if the whole world adopted his lifestyle, we’d require more than five plant Earths.

I don’t travel as much as Valentino does, but already this year I’ve used more than my quota of fossil fuels in a flight to Washington in March for a conference, a flight to Montana to the wedding of my grandson in May, and a drive to Northern California last week for another grandson’s high school graduation. Then I will continue consuming more than my fair share when we fly to Pennsylvania for a reunion next month, a flight to Maine with a grandson for an Elderhostel (that is, Road Scholar) Intergenerational program in August, and finally a trip to France and England in September.

True, this is more flying than I usually do, but I wonder how many Earths would be needed to sustain my lifestyle at the rate I am going.

I had already decided to write this piece about my carbon footprint when I went to the grocery store. I was walking from my car when I remembered the cloth bags I carry in the trunk of my car — and almost never think to bring them into the store! It would be simple to do, but I get lazy and usually don’t remember them until time to check out.

So I walked back to the car and got them. Made me feel a tiny bit better, but it’s such a small action compared with those plane trips. I’m going to have to make a better effort if I want to make a difference in this world that will soon have 9 billion people who need some of the resources I seem intent on consuming.

When looking for a video on this general topic, I came across one  by National Geographic you may find interesting. It is less than 3 minutes and shows the typical person today — and it won’t be long before the characteristics will change.

I recommend you take a moment to watch the following. It is most interesting.

How much do you resemble the “typical” person?


Did you enjoy this post?
Here are a some related posts from this blog, and articles from the Support4Change website:


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