If everyone in the world consumed the same amount of resources and produced as much waste as the average person in Western Europe, we’d need three planets. If we all lived like the North Americans, we’d need five. On the global scale, we’re using just over one and a half Earths worth of resources and pollution assimilation capacity. This is only (temporarily) possible because we’re burning coal, oil and gas which are literally millions of years of solar energy compacted into convenient fossil fuels. It’s all very well saying ”we’d need three planets…” but that’s an abstract comparison, because obviously we can’t get more than one. Apart from the use of ancient fossilized sunlight, the other reason it’s possible for people in Europe and America to have such large ecological footprints is because about two billion out of the total seven billion people live in extreme poverty.
I want to live a lifestyle that could theoretically be lived by everyone, I want to use only one seven-billionth of the Earth’s productive land. I want to use no more than my fair share. In other words, I want a one planet lifestyle.
Unfortunately, I’m quite far away from that goal.
According to this sustainability calculator, if everyone lived like me we’d need about 2.5 planets.
One Planet Living, not my image. The calculator uses these 10 principles of sustainability to calculate your footprint.
Yes, that’s less than the average for the UK, where I live. But considering how thoughtful I think I’ve been, it’s higher than I expected/hoped. I’m vegan, I buy organic local vegetables, recycled toilet paper and clothes from charity shops. I only travel by public transport and always recycle. I use an ethical bank, donate monthly to three NGOs and only use natural cleaning products. All this is great, but my lifestyle is still shockingly unsustainable. There’s several areas that I think let me down, some of which are partly outside my control:
I throw away waste food
Because: my council doesn’t recycle food waste and I don’t have a garden.
What I have done: I’ve sent my MP two letters asking her to implement food waste collection, to no avail.
What I could do: plan meals to reduce waste, look into indoor composting?
My flat has no energy saving adaptations
Because: I’m only renting and my landlord isn’t interested in investing.
What I have done: Only put the heating on if it’s snowing!
What I could do: Approach my landlord about long-term money savings from energy efficiency.
I take baths not showers
Because: My flat only has a bath.
What I have done: Hassled my landlord frequently about a shower installation, taken fewer baths.
What I could do: Offer to pay half the cost for a shower to be installed.
I do buy some new consumer goods, e.g. clothes, books etc
Because: second hand shops don’t always have what I want.
What I have done: kept shopping to a minimum, often brought second hand, chosen independent shops.
What I could do: Stay focused on what I went in for when shopping!
Using the sustainability calculator has reminded me that just caring about sustainability isn’t enough, I need to continue to adapt my lifestyle. I think I’ve lately been a bit naive by thinking I’m already living a very eco-friendly lifestyle, when in actual fact there is still a fair bit of room for improvement. The FAQ on the website said it’s very unusual for Western citizens to be able to get to the one planet level because so many things are dependant on the infrastructure of the society you live in, as well as individual behaviour. Taking this into account, I think I should be able to get mine down to two planets at least.
It’s shocking really, that for a well-meaning and environmentally minded citizen, using twice their fair share of the Earth’s resources would be an achievement. To me this really shows how unsustainable the global socio-economic system is.
I’m going to tackle the key areas I’ve outlined above, and I can only hope to do my bit as a postgraduate environmentalist once I’ve finished studying.
If you like, why not use the calculator I used and post your score in the comments section?