My ecological footprint

If you are reading this, you probably live in an English-speaking western country. And it is no secret that we in the west use a greater amount of the world’s resources than do people in less affluent countries. Is it fair?

What is a ‘footprint’?

Each of us consumes goods – food, energy and materials which make up our homes and possessions – and these goods require some of the earth’s resources to create them. It is possible to estimate the land area required to produce these goods or (in the case of carbon Dioxide emissions) to ameliorate their impacts.

We only have one earth, so if some of us use too much of it, others of us have an unequal share. As this graph shows, most of the world’s most developed countries use more than their fair share, with Australia, USA and some others using about 3 to 5 times our share. Thus our footprint is a matter of fairness, something which christians should be concerned about.

What’s my footprint?

There are many calculators which can help us estimate our footprint – just look up ‘environmental footprint calculator’ on a search engine. I tried two – a fun visual calculator produced by environmental organisation WWF, and a more sober calculator offered by an Australian Government department. Both asked similar questions, but with different possible answers, so it is no surprise that they gave different answers. But according to WWF, I have a footprint that would require 2 earths if everyone lived the same, lower than the Australian average, which is nice. But on the Victorian EPA calculator, I didn’t do so well, requiring more than 3 planets. Which I guess illustrates how approximate this calculation is.

What does it all mean?

The rest of the world wants to catch up to our standard of living in the west, and some countries – China and India are the obvious examples – are already well on the way. Which means two things:

  1. Unless there are some amazing scientific discoveries that enable much greater food production per hectare, more efficient water distribution, and more recycling of metals and other building materials, the world will not be able to supply everything people will want.
  2. The squeeze will be on, and the world’s poor will feel the effects first.
  3. We christians will need to face up to our responsibility towards those who are losing access to resources, including food and water.

What’s your footprint?

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