THE GREAT DIVIDE
MEASURING OUR FOOTPRINTS
Essentially, the ecological footprint
a measure of how much nature is required
to maintain a particular lifestyle.
three hectares of forest, for example,
required to absorb the nearly 20 tons
CO2 generated over the course of a
a typical American commuting consumer.
ecological footprint is the sum total
the resources consumed and wastes generated
by any subject, from a single individual
to a whole city or country, expressed
an area of biologically productive
"The idea with footprints is to
overshoot, the idea that we're using
resources than there are in the world,"
says Wackernagel, now a senior fellow
the San Francisco-based activist think
Redefining Progress. The intent is
much to raise awareness, he maintains,
it is to inspire action. People are
aware of everything, but it's not meaningful
to their lives. I'm working at making
issues meaningful to people in a visceral
way." The footprint, then, is
to provide people with the tools they
to begin making substantive personal
And that's just a beginning. Other
have developed 'sustainability indicators'
for items such as solid waste production,
energy and water consumption, and a
of other factors. They're now being
use in cities such as Pasadena, Tucson,
Monica, Boulder, Jacksonville, Seattle,
Portland and hundreds of others. Nearly
have a pedagogical component, but as
noted, ecoGeeks aren't just out to
awareness. They want to improve the
and to know exactly how much they've
In keeping with the ecoGeek philosophy,
Progress doesn't stop at analysis.
offers solutions. Chief among these
tax reform, the idea of shifting taxes
from things we want more of (such as
and onto things we want less of, such
pollution. Redefining Progress is also
on ways to implement pricing reforms,
the externalities and ecological services
provided by nature into the price of
Over in the UK, ecoGeek Craig Simmons
recently found himself making a lot
on his footprint eco-calculator to
conservative groups such as chartered
He finds he's especially effective
makes no recommendations or moral judgements
whatsoever. "Our method doesn't
with the baggage of a whole set of
says Simmons. "We're not saying
got to reduce your environmental impact.
We're not even saying things have to
equitably around the planet, although
might think that. What we're actually
is saying 'Here's a measuring method.
decided how you want to use it."'
Typically, says Simmons, once he's
how his measuring tool works he lets
clients get to work on their own. "They
do the calculations and then they look
and say 'Oh wow, this is really bad
And I say, 'Oh is it? Oh dear, you
do something about it then.' It's quite
to be able to step back and let them
their own conclusions. It's quite powerful."
It's an approach typical of the ecoGeek
Partly, as Simmons notes, it stems
pragmatic desire to have as much impact
possible. But there's also an ingrained
distrust for moralizing arguments at
Having watched the Boomers wage a series
of flip-flopping moral re-education
-from 'if it feels good do it,' to
do it till you're married and maybe
then,' from 'tune in and turn on' to
say no,' from anti-war to Gulf War,
have come to a pair of related conclusions.
First, human nature is unlikely ever
The same lust for status, sex and material
comfort that has motivated every other
in recorded history will likely continue
to operate for the foreseeable future
of The Celestine Prophecy notwithstanding.
Second, it just doesn't matter. Xers
'no window to see into men's hearts,'
do they need one. There is no link
between moral purity and ecological
One can lie, cheat, and steal, manipulate,
prevaricate and fornicate, and still
lightly on the planet. What's needed
better people, but simply more energy-efficient
forms of housing, and more environmentally
friendly forms of transit to move the
thieves, and hypocrites (us, that is)
one den of iniquity to another.
By abandoning the language of a moral
one can work for change without worrying
about the purity of someone's motives.
of reforming people - a task that even
and deities have found a challenge
can work on reforming institutions,
infrastructure, and providing concrete
for the 12 billion impure souls that
soon inhabit the earth. The Gen-X tribe
ecoGeeks - technically adept, materialist
in outlook, with a focus on cities
just the ones to do the work.
- Shawn Blore is a magazine and newspaper writer
with an interest in sustainability. His work
has appeared in numerous publications, including
The Globe and Mail and Canadian Geographic.