After initially using the sheet we were given to calculate my ecological footprint, I was astonished by how large the number was even though there were some sections of my lifestyle that were relatively low. For example, I am a very picky eater- not a large fan of meat or seafood. I also mostly bus everywhere I go, and am known for hiding in my house for days at a time. Despite that, I was still very close to falling into the class average of 10 hectares (just 1.25 below). Because I was curious how I compared to other people in the world, scanned over the Wikipedia page with the ecological footprints of other countries. It’s not too surprising that some of the most industrialized countries are up at the top, but that’s not the case with some others like China and Spain. This made me wonder how such places managed to keep it so low, and whether this is realistically calculated.
In my footprint, a lot of my points came from the following actions:
- Using running water, taking showers, etc…
- Watering my garden quite often.
- Having –a lot of second hand- clothing, but only wearing a fraction of them
- Not putting an effort (excluding recycling and composting) into buying items with minimal waste.
- Having a decently large house (and renting out a townhouse to tenants).
- Going to many places every day by bus and car.
- Being a swimmer, and using the swimming pool facility (which is the exact opposite of the natural environment it was built on).
- Having technology be a large part of my daily regime.
- Not really attempting to eat organic or locally grown food.
- Consuming dairy.
While this is generally common knowledge, I was surprised by the ratios of the points for certain actions to others. For example, if I was to use pesticides, that would account for many more penalty points than consuming dairy for my entire life. Another example is using the SFU/CG Brown swimming pool, which have been running for an incredibly long time, comparatively to the points for using a vehicle- whether it be in a bus or a car or a train. I would like to think that busing is friendlier than driving a car.
Knowing what actions have the most negative impact, these are the things that I tried to do in order to reduce the size of my ecological footprint.
Minimizing water usage
While this is a very broad idea, it encompasses many simple tasks such as showering for a shorter amount of time (4 minutes maximum), washing the dishes in a small sink bath instead of rinsing under running water, and being cautious and concise in watering gardens. These were relatively easy to make, disregarding the fact that my parents were a little neglectful of the idea of saving water by leaving the sprinkler on for a shorter amount of time and later in the day. These changes don’t provide a noticeable difference in my life, but they will make an impact if sustained for a longer time. Additionally, they are very easy to incorporate into my lifestyle and proved how easy it was not to abuse our right to water.
Because I visit many places in a day, I typically dedicate a large chunk of my time for transportation. This happens mostly by bus but I do get driven around quite a bit as well. Since my parents are definitely annoyed by my schedule and demand (because of the no-bus after dark policy and distance), I tried to minimize their need to bother themselves with this task by making sure that I took the bus every time that I was entitled to do so. Not as large of a lifestyle change as other things, I only increased my Transit use, on average, from 50% to 80% percent of the time. This eliminated some of the conflicts within my family too, and it provided me with evidence whenever I was being targeted as a cause for the lack of time. At the same time, it was very enjoyable for me because I got more time to contemplate my life decisions while blasting Hamilton on full volume through my earbuds. This is definitely something that I can keep up, but not completely enforce as some situations require that someone would drive me.
Vegetarianism (*an attempt)
I have never had a large love for meat (especially after working in the deli section of my store twice a week), and vegetarianism would have been a very easy option for me. My parents, on the other hand, are afraid of the idea and would not let me cease to consume meat because of it’s “essential nutritional benefits”. I decided that the only time that I would eat it would be when they force me to, and it will not be a part of my diet outside of my house. There is a Ted-Talk on being a “reducetarian”, meaning reducing your consumption of animal products without completely cutting them out of your diet. This is a foreign concept to most people, and it is looked upon as lacking the dedication to be a real vegan or just trying to make yourself feel better about your health. Being a picky eater, I’ve already adopted this concept into my life. I would like to continue in indulging in my childish ways, and all I have to do now is convince my family that my diet is ultimately my option.
Being the broadest of all, I also found this to be the most difficult. Simple tasks, such as always turning the light/appliances off, unplugging everything from electrical outlets when not in use, taking colder showers, air drying small loads of laundry, and adjusting your clothing layers well to the climate instead of using heaters or air conditioners, all seemed to add up to quite a bit more work. I understand why not many people do these things on a regular basis, because of how these jobs are a little inconvenient and a bit mentally draining. Personally, I know that I did not enjoy unplugging my large network of wires from behind my nightstand every morning. Setting up and using a laundry line in our backyard also took a lot more effort than just throwing the clothes into the drier. Taking cold showers, on the other hand, was relatively nice to the weather that we are currently having. Moving forward, it is important to formulate sturdy habits of always turning the light or power off in most appliances, as well as generally minimizing our screen time to only useful activities.
Simply reducing waste
Living in the lower mainland, recycling and composting have been introduced to all of us a long time ago. By now, it should be simple, familiar, and non-negotiable. It’s important to note that no matter how much we may do it, it does not mask the fact that the rate for the production of unnecessary materials (labels, cartons, plastic bags, straws, etc…) is constantly increasing. A bit of research and some documentaries into this investigation, I gathered the inclination to genuinely care for how serious of an impact this has on the planet and the statistics of the epidemic. I have noticed that certain food brands go completely over-the-top with packaging, so much so that the product itself is worth less than what it comes in. There isn’t a need for attempting to reduce waste for a small period of time when there is always the possibility to do this all the time. Changes like using your own water bottle, choosing foods with less packaging, buying less, and shopping at smaller local markets can reduce your waste a lot. While a lot of those decisions aren’t left up to me to put my judgment into, I realized that the small actions in every day will add up. These things will additionally make you feel less guilty to be alive and a bit more like a decent citizen. Other than being more prepared for every day, trying to be less of a raging consumer isn’t very difficult.
In conclusion, most of the things that I researched and learned in this assignment were things that I’ve heard before from all of our fellow passionate environmentalists and scientists. It does, though, take our own effort and understanding to actually commit to making a difference in our lifestyle. While not many people are there yet (myself included), more educational opportunities to the general public such as ecological footprint calculation or other significant hands-on activities will improve everyone’s participation and awareness of the subject.