One of the exercises we did for the Environment module was measuring our global footprint. You answer information about your consumption, and in response you get how many Earths it would take to sustain that lifestyle if everyone had the same lifestyle.
3.41 Earths. That's how much it would take everyone in the world to live like me.
I was pretty horrified by this, because we try to be pretty responsible. As other classmates responded with their answers, and it was more commonly 4.5-6.5 earths, with I think one person over 7, it's not exactly that I felt better, but I started to understand better the smallness of some of the things we do compared to the typical lifestyle.
The other thing that I had to consider was how much of my "smaller" impact is dependent on other circumstances that I don't really control.
Our electricity comes from hydro-power and our heating comes from natural gas. That is better for the environment than goal or nuclear (which is often called clean, but only in certain senses of the word), but it's not really a choice about using them, because that's what we have here. Well, we could choose do to the heating through electric as well, but basically, environmentally we get clean power here. I had already come to realize how lucky that makes us economically after visiting with my cousins in Italy, who pay much more for utilities, but it is an ecological boon too.
My family is very conscientious about recycling. We have a hard time on vacation when there aren't options. Usually we can find some place for bottles and cans, and we will cart paper home with us, so we try, but here it is so easy. They pick our recycling up every two weeks. We don't even have to do that much sorting. Not everyone has that. I like to think that I would try anyway, but there is limited time and energy, so the obstacles in the way matter.
Finding food grown locally is easier here. It may still be more expensive, and take some effort, but it can be done. This year there is a community garden nearby, so that has affected our habits. I am starting to be more optimistic about trying to grow in our yard. Not only do we have a yard, but even if the soil is not particularly nutrient rich, it is at least not contaminated, and I feel confident using it. I feel confident using our water. This is not true for every place you can live, even in the United States.
Our refusal to eat fish can be viewed as environmentally friendly, at least with certain species, but it wasn't really a moral choice. My sisters and I think fish is gross. Mom likes it, but not enough to miss it.
One objection I have seen to the ice bucket challenge is that it is wasting water when lots of people don't have access to clean water, and closer to home California has a drought. Based on that, it does seem a little irresponsible to do it in California. I know Henry Rollins only takes short showers because so many people don't have access. I get that, but I really enjoy my shower. I don't even take a really long shower, I just enjoy it.
I mention these things because it's important to remember the others. It's important to remember the ways we are lucky, and the ways that other people aren't. If people in developing countries are digging coal out of the ground and burning that to keep warm and cook their food, I know there is an environmental impact, but how can I judge it? When they want to build factories that pollute while providing jobs that allow them to have the kind of lifestyle that we have, how can discourage them based on our own luxury?
Tomorrow we will go over an even more devastating assessment, and talk more about environment and inequality.