A Warm Wake-Up Call
To mark the start of my Environment, Development, & Design (ED&D) class, I was tasked to measure my ecological footprint. Before the website loaded, I’d been smug, contemplating all of my current choices to live a more sustainable lifestyle: investing in and using reusables whenever I could, supporting and buying from local, environmentally-friendly shops, and conserving energy and water at home. I thought of myself as a decently eco-friendly person, one eager to prove my worth in my ED&D class—and I’m almost certain that’s what many of us think before receiving our ecological footprint scores.
As the website appeared on my screen and I clicked from one question to the next, I felt my confidence shrivel. No longer was I proud in the face of statements that asked me to consider the type of transportation I made use of and the energy these forms used. My grin wavered from my lips after gauging my daily intake of meat and dairy, and my smile had completely vanished after being forced to count the number of hours I’d spent on an airplane in the past year.
It turns out, despite all of my current efforts to live in accordance with our environment’s needs, I was barely scratching the bare minimum. If everyone on Earth lived exactly like me… well, it’s suffice to say the Earth would be nowhere near enough to support our current population.
This is where the ecological footprint, and my shame at my own result, comes in. Nowadays, we’re becoming more reliant on material goods and services to satisfy us, prompting the rise of consumerism. In turn, stress is placed on our environment to produce enough of these materials, playing a role in aggravating climate change. Alongside consuming, we’re also disposing of much more, harming our own health, wildlife, and natural environments due to the increased production of waste. These two activities shape our lifestyles, and we have the ecological footprint to tell us whether or not we’re going beyond the limits of what the Earth can provide.
Generally speaking, the ecological footprint calculates the impacts our daily practices have on the Earth. How does it measure our impact? It approximates the amount of biologically productive lands and seas required to continue supplying us with resources and properly soak up the waste we produce. On a personal level, our individual ecological footprint informs us how sustainable our current lifestyles are by sharing the number of Earths needed to sustain them—which, honestly, can be pretty shocking if you take the test unprepared. Overall, the ecological footprint reminds us of the Earth’s limits, advising us to live within these boundaries for the continued survival of our planet.
Since learning about my ecological footprint, I’ve been spurred to view and improve my lifestyle in a more critical, no-nonsense manner. No longer do I applaud myself for the little choices I’ve made—and continue making—as I consider their impacts on the environment. I’ve begun to come to terms with the truth of the grave situation our planet is in, motivated to act largely and broadly to the best of my abilities and current resources. Despite unbottling a jar of conflicting emotions—worry, fear, regret, annoyance—alongside my ecological footprint result, I’m extremely thankful to have come to my senses.
You can measure your ecological footprint here. Don’t beat yourself up with whatever result you get; instead, consider it as a warm wake-up call to think, act, and choose sustainably, and to take in accordance with whatever our Earth can give.
Andrea Salvador is a Filipino student and writer, physically living in Manila, Philippines, and mentally residing and studying in Melbourne, Australia. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading diverse fiction, and fiddling with her film camera.
Header by Markus Spiske @markusspiske.