One of the more simple ways to measure your overall impact on the planet is to use a carbon footprint calculation. There are a number calculators out there; I like the Center For Sustainable Economy’s “Ecological Footprint” calculator/. Your ecological footprint will give you a baseline assessment of how much of our natural world your current lifestyle requires; ecological footprint calculators also will give you suggestions for change. It takes about 15-20 minutes, and its time well spent.
I measured my ecological footprint when I started the path to sustainability six years ago, and my lifestyle was taking up a shocking 6.62 Earths. As someone already on the path of druidry at that point, I was horrified, and realized that simple changes in my life, like bringing my own bags to the grocery store or recycling, was not really getting to the heart of sustainable practice. After six years of dedicated shifts to sustainability, I recently took the calculation again and discovered I was still at 1.6 Earths. Yes, you heard that–1.6 Earths. Somehow, I thought I’d do better. I share this with you, my readers, to show that the challenges towards sustainability face us at a fundamental level of our daily life–work, transportation, housing–and also to show you that I, too, am very much still working towards this goal.
Retaking the Ecological Footprint quiz taught me two things: first, that I had made substantial progress, progress to be very proud of. But it also taught me that I still very much was on this journey. It taught me that my lifestyle was still consumptive beyond where it needed to be for long-term sustainability, and that, perhaps, the biggest challenges were yet to come. The Ecological Footprint calculator also showed me where my problem areas were. The two great challenges that remain for me are perhaps the most difficult: housing and transportation. These last two areas are substantial challenges that require serious life shifts that I am still in the process of making.
The first challenge for me is that my career (university professor) requires airline travel several times a year and frequent vehicle travel. Even though I offset these costs and drive the most fuel-efficient vehicle I can afford and limit and combine my trips as much as I can, transportation continues to be my biggest waste area. I have been investigating things like Greasecars, but I lack any kind of mechanical skill currently, so I’m debating how to best move forward in this area.
Secondly, I have come to realize over the last year that my current home is too large and too consumptive. I love this house, and I love this land, and this realization has been a difficult one. But every time I hear my natural gas furnace kick on (and know that natural gas is generally produced through fracking, which is extremely harmful to our waters and lands), something inside me shudders. Homes like mine (built in 1940 with numerous additions in the 2000’s) were built for an energy-rich, fossil-fuel abundant time. They are rooted and function best in our energy-filled past, and simply do not meet the needs of our energy-challenged future. Furthermore, this house has way more space than I need it to have, and great portions of it go unused at present. My recent set of power outages (one spanning 5 days after a wind storm in late November), and my dependence on electricity and natural gas have also shown me the fragility of my current living situation. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about dwelling, and how I would like my outer landscape to match my inner landscape and inner values. I’m not quite sure these thoughts are fully formed, but they are coming along, and when I’m ready, I’ll share them with you.
On the housing/land side, I’m also quickly running up against challenges with zoning and regulations in my township that are not easy to overcome. I had no idea about such things when I bought the house, but then, I’ve evolved so much over the last few years that I wouldn’t have known these would have been an issue. Natural building in any substantive way on this current property is out because of restrictive ordinances, and I’m concerned even with possible smaller projects (like an earth oven or cob chicken coop, two potential projects for next summer). Finally, I have about 1/3 acre of prime farmable land with the best sunlight….as I find myself often in a position of offering small plots of land to friends and neighbors who don’t have any room to grow their own vegetables, I’m limited in what all of us can grow here.
One of the things I decided to do in the coming year was to continue find a few projects that “give back” to the earth in substantive ways, in part to offset the 1.6 Earth lifestyle that I’m still living. I’ve decided, for this reason, to learn beekeeping because bees are currently under such risk and I would like to provide safe harbor for them, connect with them spiritually, and learn their lessons. Reading beekeeping books are certainly intimidating, but I’ve found a beekeeping mentor and a local apiary to purchase bees and beautiful hives, handmade here in Michigan. I also feel that my continued work on this blog and more locally with the Oakland County Permaculture Meetup is doing a lot of good in the community and inspiring others to enact change in their lives.
Even with some of my new and ongoing projects, there’s the little voice in my head nagging at me that I’m not doing enough. When I hear her, I remind her that one of the most important principles of permaculture design is engaging in “small, slow solutions” that are permanent, rather than piling on too many things at once that I can’t maintain. Still, I feel an increasing urgency with each day to make radical shifts.
So, I have a few paths forward. I’m going to take this year to really plan my steps ahead for 1, 3, 5, and 10 years. I’m going to take time to do some goal setting and reflecting on what my needs vs. wants are, examine my finances and consider ways of reducing/eliminating debt, and think about how I can better make my outer life reflect my inner principles. Looking back six years ago, I realize that I was like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. How far does the rabbit hole go? Where will this journey lead me next? I’m not sure, but I’m excited to continue my journey!