Average us Ecological footprint
LESS IS MORE: Merkel wants people to consider the global impact of individual choices. Photograph by Thomas Ames Jr.
Dartmouth’s sustainability coordinator, Jim Merkel, recently delivered a Thayer School Jones Seminar on sustainable design. Merkel, who holds a B.S. in electrical engineering, is on a mission to embed ecological values and practices into the College’s strategic planning, curriculum, student life, and community relationships. Much of his Jones Seminar centered on ecological footprints.
What is an ecological footprint and why is it an important measurement?
An ecological footprint estimates a human’s impact on earth. It looks at all the inputs and outputs needed to support a lifestyle. If we want to be sustainable, we need to be able to quantify human consumption. Sustainability has no teeth unless we have a metric to measure against.
What’s the average individual footprint in the U.S. and other parts of the world?
In the U.S., 24 acres per person is the average. Here at Dartmouth it’s even larger. The strongest correlation is income. In Europe, the average is between 12 and 14 acres per person. What’s interesting to note is that Europeans have a quality of life that’s comparable to ours despite having a smaller footprint. The countries of Eastern Europe and the southern hemisphere average about 6 acres per person and really poor nations average 1 to 3 acres. About 4 billion people have footprints of less than 4 acres.
How do you calculate your footprint?
There are three methods. You can use a chart to correlate income to footprint. The second method is a questionnaire that is online at myfootprint.org. The third method is filling out a detailed spreadsheet with more than 100 items. It includes categories such as food, housing, transportation, long-lasting goods, and wastes. The big ones are car, house size, utilities, and diet. Eating vegetarian versus meat is a huge impact.
What changes did you make in your own life to reduce consumption and waste?
The biggest is that I have been car-free for 16 years. I’m judicious with my fossil fuel use by using bicycles and avoiding air travel. I’ve lived in spaces ranging from 150 to 500 square feet per person. That’s putting me closer to the global average.
What was most difficult to reduce?
Things like weddings and nieces and nephews graduating from college make me choose whether to travel. It’s tough to hurt the Earth to see your family. It’s not always a clear choice inside myself.
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How does the ecological footprint of U.S. compare with the world average ecological footprint?
The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems. The world-average ecological footprint in 2007 was 2.7 global hectares per person (18.0 billion in total). The US ranks 6th (8.00gha) in ecological footprint by country.
What is the average ecological footprint?
The planet has about 4.5 acres for each person in the world. The average ecological footprint in the US is 24 acres.