There is no doubt that people have an impact on the environment but measuring our own individual impact is not easy. Over the last decade or so there have been many attempts to develop ways of measuring human impact on the natural environment and to devise indicators of progress. These require one to answer questions about one’s lifestyle: how much energy one uses, how far one travels and whether by car, public transport, bicycle or foot, what one eats, and so on. They then combine this information into an indicator of one’s environmental impact. Currently most either convert the data into the amount of land needed to support one – one’s ‘footprint’ – or into carbon emissions. Most contain links to information on reducing one’s impact.
Some footprint calculators are quite simplistic, while others require actual figures for energy consumption, or travel, for example. Human behaviour is very varied and variable at an individual level. Some weeks we may, for example, use lots of energy, if it is a cold spell or one is at home all day rather than at work. And if one has just taken that once in a lifetime flight across the world to see distant relations one’s carbon footprint is going to be seriously skewed. So calculating one’s environmental footprint is not at all easy. The world is very complex and there is a lot that is still not known about human impacts on ecological systems.
Decisions on greening your lifestyle are taken in the context of a very complicated world but reducing your impact is worthwhile. The important thing is to make a start.
Making a Start
There are lots of things that can be done – see Tips and Starters for some ideas.
There are many carbon calculators around and several that calculate ecological footprints. The following list is not comprehensive, but none require you to log in or buy software. Several companies offer to offset your carbon emissions by planting trees or funding climate care projects and some of these, which have carbon calculators, are included in the list below.
Act on CO2 was the Government campaign aimed at getting everyone to reduce their carbon. The Act on CO2 Calculator, provided a way to check out your own carbon footprint and gives advice on how to reduce it with a simple, personalised action plan.
Climate Care also offers very simple carbon calculators, for day to day emissions from car, home and air travel. The results comes back as emissions in tonnes of CO2 with a note of the cost of offsetting this with a payment to Climate Care (minimum £5).
CO2 Balance also offsets carbon emissions with treeplanting and has home, car and holiday CO2 calculators. They say their methods have been validated by Bournemouth University School of Conservation.
The BP carbon footprint calculator is based upon energy in the home, whether one recycles waste, car usage and flights but does not provide many options for answers.
The US Earthday Network has a 15 question quiz which calculates one’s global footprint in terms of global hectares, broken down into food, mobility, shelter and goods and services. Based on national consumption averages, it is not highly detailed but gives you an idea of your Ecological Footprint relative to other people in the country you live in. Once one has done the quiz quite a lot of extra information is available with very informative FAQs. It was created by Earth Day Network and Redefining Progress, a US nonpartisan, non profit public policy organisation.
There is a vast and ever growing amount of information regarding human impact on the environment, with a lot of research being carried out and many academic publications and books. Several of the websites above contain links to further information.
Ecological footprints tend to be based on the amount of productive land available. Redefining Progress, the American public policy organisation, who are behind myfootprint.org work on the assumption that there are 1.8 biologically productive hectares per person worldwide. In the UK the average ecological footprint is 5.3 hectares. So one can calculate how many planets like earth would be needed to support the world population if everyone had a UK average ecological footprint.
Carbon calculators are generally related directly to estimates of carbon dioxide emissions, which are very significant in terms of climate change. Many of the calculators listed convert the results in carbon dioxide emissions per year and compare this with the average for the UK (10 or 11 tonnes/person/year). The UK government target is to reduce this to 4.5 tonnes by the year 2050 but the sustainable world average is 2.5 tonnes/person/year.