Your Carbon Footprint Offers Insight Into Environmental Conservation

We've all heard about the "ecological footprint" quiz, but now it has been totally revised. The new quiz, made available by the Center for Sustainable Economy, reflects more recent findings in ecological science.

The newest Ecological Footprint Quiz uses national averages for energy consumption, and offers a rough approximation of how heavily or lightly you live on the Earth. Your carbon footprint can be thought of as the amount of land and ocean area required to absorb all the carbon emissions associated with your use of energy for home and transportation activities.

The current quiz contains 21 questions about such matters as your choices and usage patterns regarding food, housing, and other goods and services. It uses your answers as the basis for calculations regarding your need for forest, cropland, pastureland, marine fisheries, built-up space, and carbon-based fuels like gasoline.

You can find it here.

As with any emerging discipline, "ecological footprint" methods are still under development, and need a good deal of further refining for their accuracy to improve. As of 2010, for example, there are no well-accepted methods to account for all forms of pollution, or for unsustainable resource management practices. Until these methods are more fully developed, "footprint" calculations can't accurately estimate all the demands we make on nature.

So far, the most accurate and comprehensive "footprint" calculations require using national statistics for consumption and trade, and then computing an individual's personal "footprint" based on these data.

Because of this "broad spectrum" methodology, your individual choices for a more sustainable lifestyle may not be fully reflected in your "footprint" results. For example, no matter how lightly you seek to live on the Earth, every resident of your town or city has a proportionate share of your town or city's roads, schools, and government offices included in their "footprint" score. In addition, simply because of where you live, you may not have the option to use more public transportation as an alternative to driving.

First the quiz attempts to ascertain your the total amount of carbon emitted each year as a result of your lifestyle practices. Then it calculates the amount of land and ocean area required to absorb those emissions. Since the average rate of carbon sequestration for ecosystems worldwide is roughly .06 tons of carbon per hectare per year, every metric ton of carbon your lifestyle causes to be emitted requires 16.67 hectares of land and water.

Generally, the quiz seeks to adjust your carbon footprint on the basis of where you live, the size of your home, your home energy usage patterns, your personal transportation choices, and your participation in carbon offset programs.

But individual elements of your carbon footprint score are calculated using more specific formulas. For example, your food footprint reflects the amount of cropland, pastureland, and marine fisheries needed to provide you with food for an entire year, plus the amount of land and ocean area required to absorb the carbon emissions associated with the production, processing, and transportation of that much food.

To make your "footprint" number more meaningful, the quiz reports on the total amount of land and ocean needed to absorb the carbon emissions generated by your lifestyle, in terms of the number of planet Earths the human race would need if your consumption habits were the average for everyone alive today.

If the number of planets is less than one, you are living sustainably. If the number of planets is more than one, your lifestyle must eventually change, simply because the Earth is not capable of sustaining indefinitely your level of consumption.

More later.

Photo credit:  Axel-D