Tracking Our Ecological Footprint

| 11/29/2017 4:33:00 PM

footprints in the sand

Photo by Getty Images/PeopleImages

At 10 years old, everyone predicted I was going to be the height of a basketball player — because in elementary school, I was always one of the tallest in the class. But more than height, the tell-tale sign was my feet: size 7 in fifth grade. All I had to do was wait for the day I’d shoot up like a geyser.

I waited. And 12 years later, at 5 feet 4 inches and size 9 feet (on a good day), I’m still waiting. It turns out, though, I did end up growing big feet in another way. In fact, most of the people I grew up with did. Not with physical foot growth, but an ecological one. That, I learned, is where basketball player proportions is a lot more detrimental than we think.

This discovery about ecological footprints, for me, happened in my senior year of college when I enrolled in an introductory environmental science class. I loved it because most of our labs consisted of us taking field trips to different off-site places: walking through an old-growth forest, wading in a cold mountain stream, hiking up an abandoned mine, driving through a landfill. Those trips alone opened my eyes to the state of the local environment — what was thriving, what wasn’t — but what really stuck in my head was a test we all had to take during one of our first in-class labs.

Our professor introduced it as the Global Footprint Network’s ecological footprint calculator. We had to answer a series of questions online that measured how you lived: what you ate, how much garbage you estimated to throw out, where you lived, who you lived with, how far you drove, the list went on. At the end, our results revealed our ecological footprint: how much of the earth’s resources we consumed, and hence how big of a consumer “footprint” we left. Those results were measured in planets: the number of planets you had revealed how many Earths it would take to sustain your type of living if everyone else in the world lived the same way.

Being a college student, there were some questions I was proud to answer. I didn’t really drive much, since I lived on campus, and compared to what I saw other students toss in the dumpster on a weekly basis, I didn’t produce nearly as much waste. Pleasingly, I clicked away at the questions, anticipating that my score wouldn’t be so terrible. After all, I was a fairly self-aware person.

Ronna Kelly
12/19/2017 11:44:43 AM

Jessica, It is so wonderful to hear that our Ecological Footprint Calculator had such powerful impact! Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful blog post about your experience using it. We would also love to share your posts with our readers and supporters. Warmly, The Global Footprint Network Team

12/5/2017 1:57:23 PM

Great blog post Jess! I remember taking that exact same test in high school too! My grandmother was really the one in my family who advocated and lived to make less waste on the planet. The front door to her small downtown apartment had a sticker right in the middle of it stating "Whatever happens to the water, happens to the people". I would love to embark on this journey with you!

12/2/2017 8:15:05 PM

I was introduced to the calculator in my geology class. I have a lot more work to do than I thought. 3.5 Earths, I'm in trouble

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