One of the more simple ways to measure your overall impact on the planet is to use a carbon footprint calculation. There are a number calculators out there; I like the Center For Sustainable Economy’s “Ecological Footprint” calculator/. Your ecological footprint will give you a baseline assessment of how much of our natural world your current lifestyle requires; ecological footprint calculators also will give you suggestions for change. It takes about 15-20 minutes, and its time well spent.
I measured my ecological footprint when I started the path to sustainability six years ago, and my lifestyle was taking up a shocking 6.62 Earths. As someone already on the path of druidry at that point, I was horrified, and realized that simple changes in my life, like bringing my own bags to the grocery store or recycling, was not really getting to the heart of sustainable practice. After six years of dedicated shifts to sustainability, I recently took the calculation again and discovered I was still at 1.6 Earths. Yes, you heard that–1.6 Earths. Somehow, I thought I’d do better. I share this with you, my readers, to show that the challenges towards sustainability face us at a fundamental level of our daily life–work, transportation, housing–and also to show you that I, too, am very much still working towards this goal.
Retaking the Ecological Footprint quiz taught me two things: first, that I had made substantial progress, progress to be very proud of. But it also taught me that I still very much was on this journey. It taught me that my lifestyle was still consumptive beyond where it needed to be for long-term sustainability, and that, perhaps, the biggest challenges were yet to come. The Ecological Footprint calculator also showed me where my problem areas were. The two great challenges that remain for me are perhaps the most difficult: housing and transportation. These last two areas are substantial challenges that require serious life shifts that I am still in the process of making.
The first challenge for me is that my career (university professor) requires airline travel several times a year and frequent vehicle travel. Even though I offset these costs and drive the most fuel-efficient vehicle I can afford and limit and combine my trips as much as I can, transportation continues to be my biggest waste area. I have been investigating things like Greasecars, but I lack any kind of mechanical skill currently, so I’m debating how to best move forward in this area.
Secondly, I have come to realize over the last year that my current home is too large and too consumptive. I love this house, and I love this land, and this realization has been a difficult one. But every time I hear my natural gas furnace kick on (and know that natural gas is generally produced through fracking, which is extremely harmful to our waters and lands), something inside me shudders. Homes like mine (built in 1940 with numerous additions in the 2000’s) were built for an energy-rich, fossil-fuel abundant time. They are rooted and function best in our energy-filled past, and simply do not meet the needs of our energy-challenged future. Furthermore, this house has way more space than I need it to have, and great portions of it go unused at present. My recent set of power outages (one spanning 5 days after a wind storm in late November), and my dependence on electricity and natural gas have also shown me the fragility of my current living situation. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about dwelling, and how I would like my outer landscape to match my inner landscape and inner values. I’m not quite sure these thoughts are fully formed, but they are coming along, and when I’m ready, I’ll share them with you.
On the housing/land side, I’m also quickly running up against challenges with zoning and regulations in my township that are not easy to overcome. I had no idea about such things when I bought the house, but then, I’ve evolved so much over the last few years that I wouldn’t have known these would have been an issue. Natural building in any substantive way on this current property is out because of restrictive ordinances, and I’m concerned even with possible smaller projects (like an earth oven or cob chicken coop, two potential projects for next summer). Finally, I have about 1/3 acre of prime farmable land with the best sunlight….as I find myself often in a position of offering small plots of land to friends and neighbors who don’t have any room to grow their own vegetables, I’m limited in what all of us can grow here.
One of the things I decided to do in the coming year was to continue find a few projects that “give back” to the earth in substantive ways, in part to offset the 1.6 Earth lifestyle that I’m still living. I’ve decided, for this reason, to learn beekeeping because bees are currently under such risk and I would like to provide safe harbor for them, connect with them spiritually, and learn their lessons. Reading beekeeping books are certainly intimidating, but I’ve found a beekeeping mentor and a local apiary to purchase bees and beautiful hives, handmade here in Michigan. I also feel that my continued work on this blog and more locally with the Oakland County Permaculture Meetup is doing a lot of good in the community and inspiring others to enact change in their lives.
Even with some of my new and ongoing projects, there’s the little voice in my head nagging at me that I’m not doing enough. When I hear her, I remind her that one of the most important principles of permaculture design is engaging in “small, slow solutions” that are permanent, rather than piling on too many things at once that I can’t maintain. Still, I feel an increasing urgency with each day to make radical shifts.
So, I have a few paths forward. I’m going to take this year to really plan my steps ahead for 1, 3, 5, and 10 years. I’m going to take time to do some goal setting and reflecting on what my needs vs. wants are, examine my finances and consider ways of reducing/eliminating debt, and think about how I can better make my outer life reflect my inner principles. Looking back six years ago, I realize that I was like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. How far does the rabbit hole go? Where will this journey lead me next? I’m not sure, but I’m excited to continue my journey!
What an insightful article
Thank you, Linda!
Great article and issues many if us need to address honestly withourwelves, thankyou!
Thanks for the comment, Cathy! I think all we can do is work on the individual level, each as we are able. In the end, I’m the only person who I control….so its up to me to do the best work I can in the world and live as honestly and true to myself as possible :).
Don’t be too hard on yourself, because going from 6.6 to 1.6 is huge! It would be hard to be American, with the kind of job and house you have, and get down to 1. I took the quiz and scored 4.5, but I’m not sure I did it right. Since I live in a household of 2, I counted both my husband’s and my travel and income. Maybe I should do it again.
I’m sure you are operating your house as efficiently as you can, closing off unused rooms and such. How frustrating that there are actually ordinances against building more sustainable structures. I admire your determination to keep improving.
Karen, thanks for the vote of confidence. I think you are hitting the nail on the head–at least in terms of housing. I’m not ready to change careers (I went through 10 years of higher ed to get here) but housing is certainly something that, in the long run, I can consider changing. And yes, I am not heating 3 rooms in the winter, which cuts down on the heating a lot. I’m not sure if you should count both of your travel….that’s a good question! Thanks for posting 🙂
I did the quiz again, but even with the travel mileage cut in half, I still scored 4.5. It is daunting.
Yes, it is seriously daunting. But remember, it took me years to get that number down as far as I got it….many, many small permanent steps. I always think about this stuff in terms of the “mountain metaphor”; even if we have some idea of that top of the mountain, and we can see the top, we can’t reach it in a day. The idea is to do the best we can, each day, and know we are making steady progress towards the top :).
I have major improvements in the footprints, to do as well. We’re blessed here, to live in a rural area, which has helped a lot, toward sustainability, still it is the journey not the destination. Thank you for sharing the website, great insight.
Samuel, thanks for the comment! I’d be interested in hearing how you are making moves toward sustainability :).
What an inspiration. It is definitely time I took the footprint again.
I would like to offer a bit of encouragement & perspective – While your goal of improving even more us admirable, renege that if you move to a more sustainable home, somebody else will be in yours. They may be much less conscious, therefore increasing the impact of your home & property. Just moving won’t decrease the impact on the earth. You are certainly offsetting your small impact on immeasurable ways by helping & inspiring others. Cut yourself some grace, you rock!
Kim, its true, no doubt. This house was here before me, and it will be here after I leave. Its a good perspective :). I could retrofit this house, and that’s another consideration I’ve been thinking about! Lots of options to consider!
I happened on this blog Googling around for Druid altars. I’m super glad that I found it. I didn’t realize there was anyone besides me interested in both Druidry and Permaculture! I just started a blog myself where I’ve been going into the environmental problems we face. I’m also just getting started in Druidry. Count me as a new fan of yours!
Awesome! I’m excited to hear more about your blog. I’m excited to be blogging friends–I have been investigating the connection of druidry and permaculture for some time now :).
Well you can find it here, if you like.- http://civilizationaltriage.wordpress.com/
It’s only six weeks old or so, and I’m still describing what our problems are. Eventually I hope to go into permaculture solutions to environmental problems. Future posts will probably be similar to this one here that you have done. I’ll be looking forward to your future posts, and probably reading through the old ones. Anyway, cheers.