Friday, October 31, 2008

The Eco-footprint Blues

The Eco-Footprint Blues

Hello, and greetings from Troglodyte City. As I sit under my rock eating grubs and shivering, the news of the day haunts me: Chicken-Liken was right, the sky is falling.
Well, of course these things are not true. I am sitting in my comfortable house with a cup of coffee and musing, with REM’s words humming in the background. “It’s then end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine.”

Except of course the part where “I feel fine.” I don’t. I feel more like in a dream that I have had throughout the years. In it, I am driving a vehicle and I am only loosely in control of it. Steering, sloppy. Brakes, mushy. Horn, feeble. Mostly out of control. (OK all you dream interpreters out there, have at it!) Thank goodness I can wake-up from that nightmare. Not so for the current state of the world.

Not you? You feeling like you are doing ok? Feeling fine? Voting for Obama, re-cycling some stuff? Thinking bio-diesel, thinking going solar?

Let me introduce you to the bummer du jour, the Eco-footprint. Yes, sometimes called the environmental footprint or carbon footprint. I refer to it as the Godzilla footprint, which stomps all over me and my good intentions. What is does, briefly is determines how much of the earth’s goods and resources you an I tap into, like water, food, wood, oil, etc., and then compares that to what dear mother nature can provide. You can do it in a few minutes, online if you please. The bottom line message, to me at least is this: We can’t do enough. Not living the way we currently do. Not even living something like the way we do. We have way too many balls in the air, way too many wants. Piggy-piggy! By the way, there are several versions of this device based on what seems to be sophisticated modeling, and they differ, but the message is the same. We use way too many resources.

On a personal note, I have been an environmental advocate for many years, and an environmental educator for most of those. To live in my own skin ethically, I have tried to make some sacrifices, in the name of lowering my footprint, even before this footprint thing was constructed. I have changed my ways. I made some sacrifices, and yielded some concessions. I am not coming at this from the point of being totally fat and sassy. (By the way, can you imagine the positive environmental kick there might be, if we in the land of the large, just got down to a reasonable, healthy body-weight?)

Let’s play a game. Suppose you had to choose the five items you would least be willing to depart with, given your modern 21st century lifestyle. Things you already have access to, things you can afford. What would they be? Get a pen and a scrap of recycled paper. (What, can’t I use one of those cool post-it pads with slogans and photos printed on them? No. Give them up.) While you are pondering, and slashing from the pork barrel items in your life, I will be humming and writing my song parody “These are a few of my do without things” (think Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music, Rogers and Hammerstein, etc. I personally like the Dave Brubeck version.)

So what did you stubbornly refuse to give up? Car? Heat? Internet? Hot shower? Coffee? Videos? I am sure the lists will vary some. But are there commonalities? Trace your item back to its source. What is it made of? How was it made? Where did it come from? Ask questions. Web-it. Flow-chart it. Notice anything? The longer and more complicated responses probably suggest a consequentially bigger eco-footprint.
The thing (ok, one thing out of many) that bothers me about my list, and my footprint, is that I have already done many of those easy things I can do. You too? Got your CF bulbs? Sacrifices, adjustments, etc.? Now what?

Now what do I do? We (you are in on this too) are so wired into living our first world, post industrial lifestyles, that it is seemingly difficult if not impossible to not be a part of it. Take a moment to ponder your lifestyle. Done all the easy things too? So now what? Can you easily walk or bike to most of your destinations? Most of us can’t. Don’t we want to step away from the brink? Don’t we all want to lower our score on the eco-footprint? If not in a do-gooder way, at least in a way that responds to the theme of our own (here we are talking the big us) best interest?

Let’s go back to the Eco-foot print for a moment of inspiration. According to, we have recently passed and celebrated (?) September 23rd. On this day we (that’s the billions of us) passed for this year the point where the earth, with all its riches, can no longer sustain our needs and wants. We are living on credit, a debt we likely cannot repay. We are living on the resources that future generations will need in order to survive in any sort of decent manner.

Well, sounds like the news of the moment doesn’t it? Buying things we can’t afford. (OK, now Anthony Newly is singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Where are all of these old songs coming from? Maybe from our grandparents who never knew of buying on credit, or living beyond our means…)

OK, now for a math lesson that our grandparents could do. If we have “X” amount of people on this planet (at this moment about 6,708,000,000), all of whom have needs as well as varying degrees of wants (USA! USA!) and a lovely planet that has a finite ability to meet those needs and wants, what can we do to make sure we do not exceed the earths ability to sustain us? Not to mention the needs of the rest of the living things who also reside here. (Some good stuff here finite, sustain, needs, wants, USA!…not original thinking of course.) So after tinkering with this equation, what did you get? Here’s what I came up with”
Use less.
Increase resources.
Decrease need.

A few last thoughts. We can use less, but greed, blatant and subtle, is a big obstacle. . We are talking about changing human nature here. Do we have the guts? Some of us do this voluntarily by recycling, driving the Prius, etc. What are we socialists?! Others in the third world do this by starving and through the deprivation of basic human needs. Not one of them volunteered.

Increase resources by…hmm that’s a tough one. Did you know that right now people are seriously thinking about ways to mine the moon?! A little more down to earth, we can develop, given the will, ways to better use our resources though creative technology, a.k.a. solar, wind, hydrogen, etc. Good ideas, but they can only go so far.

And now to wax Malthusian for a moment. This perhaps is the deal breaker: We have to figure out how to decrease the need by decreasing the population¸ Yes, this is the piece of the puzzle no one wants to talk about. (Check the records and comments of almost all political candidates. Ask you next door neighbor. Count your children.) This is the elephant in the room. And this elephant needs a lot of food, water, shelter, energy, medicine, etc.

And as Malthus would tell you, if we don’t do something about it, it will take care of itself. Populations cycle: They grow until they can no longer support themselves, then they crash, back to a level that is sustainable. Basic biology. Of course basic biology doesn’t comment much upon what a horrific human disaster this would be. It does mention however that sometimes populations totally crash, to a point where we cannot rebound. Can you say “extinction?” I knew that you could…

So while we are all busy arranging deck chairs, perhaps we could talk honestly about the reality of the situation, and get on with the gettin’on? Could we face the music? If we did, well I’d feel fine.

As Rosemary said, “This isn’t a dream; this is really happening.”

Love your mother and her children. I wish us well.

One last song reference, with props to those who have lived hard lives and have earned the right to sing:

“I woke up this mornin’
I got the eco-footprint blues
Ya, I work up this morning
With them low-down eco-foot print blues
Well I feel so low-down
I just had to spread the news…”