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Why Your Carbon Footprint Matters

Reducing your ecological footprint is essential as nations across the globe are consuming resources at a rate far exceeding what the earth can continually produce.

| January/February 2004

“There is no more new frontier; we have got to make it here.” —Don Henley

In the thirteenth century, the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly called by their Navajo name, Anasazi) constructed natural homes, some large enough to accommodate 150 people, into the cliff faces of the high mesas of the Southwest’s Four Corners region. The mesas reveal a continuous human presence from about 550 A.D. to the late 1200s, but the magnificent cliff dwellings were not built until about 1200. Within less than 100 years, these sandstone dwellings were abandoned. Why?

Archeologists theorize the Ancestral Puebloans left in part because they had exhausted their resource base, which would have included timber (for building and as a fuel), soil (to support their extensive farming operations), and deer and other animals that supplemented their diet. Many researchers believe that at their peak (coincident with the time of their departure), the population of the Ancestral Puebloans was about 50,000 people, and that the piñon and juniper forest was essentially gone when they left.

Why would these people make such a tremendous effort to build the cliff dwellings if they could see that in a generation or two their resources would be exhausted? And secondly, how much intact forest was required to sustain a population of 50,000 people? Or by extension, how much land does it take to sustain an individual, whether that person is a thirteenth century aboriginal or a twenty-first century American?

This last question is a timely one. Are the earth’s resources adequate to sustain 6.2 billion people? And at what standard of living can these resources continuously support 6.2 billion people?

Measuring our impact

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