Do you ever take the time out of your busy day to consider how your personal activities affect other people and the place on Earth where you live? If you do then you should consider your ecological footprint and its effect on the people and place where you live. This would be especially important for a developing country like Belize where there is still time to establish standards of living that are sustainable.
There are approximately 300,000 people in Belize, not including many visitors that land on Belize’s shores every day. Because Belize has many pristine environments, some of which are protected, it is important to try and understand what impact the population has on its environments and ecosystems by the lifestyles that people follow who live in Belize or while visiting Belize.
There is a way of evaluating one’s impact on a place’s natural resources, as well as the entire planet. The Global Footprint Network has developed a Calculator to estimate the amount of biologically productive area needed to support a person’s lifestyle. How much land area does it take to support your lifestyle? Take the GFN quiz to find out your Ecological Footprint, discover your biggest areas of resource consumption, and learn what you can do to tread more lightly on the earth. The Ecological Footprint examines the scientific, cultural and policy factors affecting human-environmental interactions and the path to sustainability.
The Global Footprint Calculator provides an interactive way for you to answer questions about various aspects of your lifestyle that affect your Ecological Footprint. If you live in the US or Canada, the test for your area is easily accessible. If you live in the Belize unfortunately Belize is not identified on the GFN Calculator, but it is interesting to use Columbia (which is identified) to assess your footprint. Individual-specific questions are asked about type of diet, local food, waste/recycling habits, electricity usage, type of house, personal transportation, public transportation, and airplane travel. For each topic, you have the option to give a quick, cruder, response or to use the Calculator to give a more detailed evaluation. In the end, your responses to these lifestyle questions are combined with your nation’s societal burden from services such as health care or military operations. The Calculator presents the final output as the number of Earths that would be needed if everyone in the world lived like you – all 7.3 billion of us.
For this post I decided to calculate my own footprint using the statistics for Columbia to substitute for the lack of information in the Footprint Calculator for Belize. The only real difference probably is that Columbia supports a military and Belize does not. A general description of life in Belize for me: I currently live with my wife in a bungalow on the beach. Since this is coastal Belize we rarely use AC and don’t even have a furnace. Driving is usually limited to once or twice a week and typically occurs with one other person in the car. We usually have fresh local foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, water, etc.) delivered to the village we live in once a week and only travel to the grocery store for the few packaged goods we enjoy. We obtain the majority of our household water from rainfall collected off the roof of our home. We live in a fishing village so fresh fish is always available. I have a tremendous weak spot for good beef and cheese. This definitely raises my demand on the Earth as far as the Footprint Calculator is concerned.
Actually I did pretty well in using the Calculator. It indicated based upon the data I provided that if everyone lived the same lifestyle that I do in Belize, we would require the regenerative capacity of 1 planet each year. In other words my lifestyle has me living within the means of the present Earth with the present population of 7.3 billon people on Earth. As it turns out although I come from the United States I don’t live there and thus avoided locking myself into a share of the biologically productive area on Earth needed to support the US’s infrastructure. No matter how much one might alter their personal lifestyle in the US, the support for the US’s infrastructure would remain constant and high, a stark reminder that there are aspects of our Ecological Footprints that we must address indirectly.
What part of my Footprint can I influence? Some of each person’s Ecological Footprint is dependent upon choices they make in their own life, such as how much they drive, recycle and purchase new products, and some of it is their per person share of their societies’ infrastructure. The first part can be influenced directly. The second part is equally critical to living within the means of one planet, but must be influenced through more indirect action such as political engagement, green technology and innovation, and other work toward large-scale social change.
Of course, there is also the other piece of the calculation – the scaling up to 7.3 billion people, the present estimated human population of Earth. Even if all aspects of my individual footprint remain constant, the numbers of Earths required to support the global population at that level will continue to rise with human population growth. Here, again, I can have an impact directly through my personal choices and also indirectly by working to shift social conventions and placing human population size in conversations about sustainability.
If you have not yet used the GFN Calculator to assess your Ecological Footprint, I strongly urge you to take a few minutes to run through the questions. Just get a rough idea of where you are at. Then think about how much more powerful this tool could be if it was easily accessible to more people. Think about if it could be used across the globe to bring attention to the current burden each one of us, and the collective 7.3 billion of us, place on our one Earth.
In using the Calculator sometimes, you are tempted to begin thinking about all sorts of ideas on how to maintain sustainability in your living space and are unsure which ones are the most effective. The challenge is to put those concepts together and come up with the best game plan for a greener living. Here are 6 green living principles your household should learn and live by.
- Your Electricity Bill Tells a Lot – You can start at home. Try to consume less energy and you’ll realize that it will not only benefit the environment, but it would also yield higher savings for your family. Use natural sunlight rather than electricity during the day. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D and can boost your mood.
- Meals Should Be Well-planned – Obesity rate among children ages 2-5 decreased 43% in the past 10 years, based on a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February 2014. This means that healthier habits are being practiced by more Americans. Do your part by preparing healthy and delicious organic food that your kids would like. As much as possible, have a good estimate of the food you will prepare for your family to avoid throwing away leftovers.
- Make Play Time More Fun – Aside from preparing healthier meals on the table, you should also be concerned about your kids’ physical and mental development. Being active in the playground allows children to run around freely with other kids. Having fun playground time is one great trick that can prevent your children from watching too much TV, or playing too often using electronic gadgets, or spending too much time in front of the computer. Allow them to exercise at the playground with other kids in your community to make play time more enjoyable for them. Look for commercial playground equipment that would not only address their playground fitness, but also develop their cognitive and social skills.
- Reduce Waste – Do your share by purchasing items in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging. Buying reusable items rather than disposable single-use products can also help in avoiding waste. And when doing the groceries, bring tote bags to avoid the use of plastic bags.
- Transform Waste into Treasure – Look for second-hand furniture or previously-owned home pieces that are useful and in great condition. If there are unused toys or old clothes that do not fit anymore, hand them down to other people in need. Donating them to the less fortunate is better than just throwing them away. Glass and plastic bottles are good for decorating the house. Use your creativity and give the house a makeover.
- Grow Greens – If you have a spacious backyard, consider growing various vegetables in it. This can be a source of food available for your household, so you don’t need to buy them when you do your grocery shopping. If you do not have a yard where you can plant a fruit tree, you can still create a small herb garden. Grow them in a pot and place it on the front porch or windowsill. It’ll be a fun learning experience for the kids to watch the plants grow as well.
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Looking Back at My Footprint
Looking Back at My Footprint