J500 Media and the Environment

Putting our best foot forward by rarab
January 22, 2008, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Society + Media

The Bad News: From taking the Ecological Footprint Test, I just discovered it would take a planet the size of Neptune to sustain my current way of living.

The Good News: At least it wasn’t the size of Uranus. (Okay, I admit my humor was stunted at age 10.)

Seriously, while the Footprint Test was very useful–and one that every American (if not every Earth dweller) should take at some point in their life–I did notice some serious oversights in its approach. I appreciated its simplified nature (making it accessible and easy to fill out), but I wish it would have gone to greater lengths.

For example, I consider myself to be a fairly enlightened person when it comes to environmental issues (key word: “fairly”)–I recycle on a regular basis, I take cloth bags to the grocery store, I purchase mostly organic foods (that don’t rely on harmful pesticides or needless chemical substitutes)…none of those factors, though, appear directly in the test. Instead, we do get standard questions about gas mileage, plane useage, and public transportation. All important questions, no doubt, but not the entire picture. Moreover, most of those factors are pretty much out of my control.

What do I mean exactly? Well, let me put it to you this way: I came to this realization while frantically spending my Sunday afternoon trying to deal with a frozen water pipe that cracked under the strain of tundra-like conditions, turning my basement into a set from “Waterworld.” As precious water was wastefully gushing, I saw firsthand how some environmental catastrophes, though occurring under my watch, are simply out of my control. Moreover, when I was reminded by the plumber that future pipe bursts could be prevented by constantly running a stream of water from the taps in my house, I had a mini-breakdown, wondering if I’d ever be able to lessen my wasteful ways. I eventually came to the conclusion that, try as hard as I might, I simply couldn’t correct all of my problems. I’m destined to leave a larger ecological footprint than I’d like. But then again, we’re always told that size doesn’t matter, right? (Yeah, I never believed that either…)

More to my point, there are some things, like gas mileage, for example, which I simply cannot correct overnight–and I certainly can’t make those changes alone. For instance, I’ve promised myself that my next car will be a hybrid (even though my current car gets a decent mileage of 28/30 mpg), but even THAT is not enough. As the documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? pointed out, we currently have the technology to create cars with far better gas mileage (that is ZERO useage of gas)…unfortunately, though, such cars are not available to–or affordable for–average schmucks like myself. I can’t, for example, take a bus or a train to my semi-annual work trips to NY and DC; my city doesn’t offer truly efficient and reliable public transportation to reach all corners of town. So, on some levels, I’m stuck, dependent on lawmakers and financial considerations, among other factors.

All of this, of course, is not to say the “Good Fight” is futile. It’s anything but that. But it does mean we have to set priorities, make the changes immediately where we can, and fight for the bigger changes whenever possible. And, even though we each have an individual ecological footprint, we are not going at this alone…just like I relied on that plumber to bail me out of the flooding, so too must we all work together to make sure mileage standards are as high as possible, that public transportation becomes a viable option, that recycling opportunities are made available to all. We can all reduce the size of our footprint individually–and that would be a major first step–but let’s not also forget, as the Worldmapper reminds us, that ultimately we leave a collective footprint as a city, a state, a nation…a planet. So, the tricky part, I suppose, is finding the balance between lessening one’s own footprint and finding a way to reduce our collective shoe size, as it were.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, they’re scheduled to play an NHL game in my laundry room, and I’m supposed to officiate…



3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I agree with you about the faults of the quiz, but overall, it served a great purpose in putting it in our faces what our daily or weekly courses of action mean for the earth. It alarmed me, as I was writing my post, to actually write down that I commute 180 miles a week—to TOPEKA! That, along with gas prices, has made me more conscious of my lifestyle. But, things such as recycling, saying no to plastic bags and shopping locally when possible are the small steps that help you live a greener lifestyle. It’s just that you never feel like you’re doing enough, and this quiz suggested to me that I need to refrain from eating meat, live in a smaller apartment and walk more—all things that are hard to do, like you said, overnight. We’re in this for the long haul.

Kim Wallace

Comment by kimwallace

Ahh the perils of city living. So sorry to hear about the floodplain that is your basement.
The questions beget more questions. . .as soon as you realize reusable bags are the answer to the paper or plastic question, you have to ask whether the bags are organic or GMO or fair trade. And what about organic food? Is it grown on small farms or monoculture plantations maintained by agri-businesses? And what about USDA certification? Is it sufficient? Does it stifle small farmers? The questions are endless.
The key, I think, is to find a point of entry that does not overwhelm. What inspired you to pick tote the reusable bag or consider a hybrid? What would inspire your neighbors. . .or the world?
Thank you for bringing in Worldmapper. It is fascinating to see the world shift depending on the lens through which we view it.

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

You raise many great points and inspire a ton of follow-up questions. To be honest, I don’t know all of the details related to the bags I use, the organics I purchase, etc., but now I’m interested to find out.

And, yes, it can get pretty overwhelming to try and navigate all of this.

There clearly is a great deal more for me to learn, and, I’m quite sure, I’m not alone in that regard. As a journalist, I look forward to the challenge of not only educating myself, but helping others “see the light” in a way that is not heavy-handed or intimidating…In many ways we (as journos and environmentalists) can serve the same purpose as the plumber I called…he kept me calm while I was overwhelmed with the crisis, and showed me how to avoid similar catastrophes…the difference, though, is that he stuck me with a $300 bill!

Now THAT was overwhelming!!

Ranjit Arab

Comment by rarab

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