Tracy Lee Karner

Honey, I shrunk our ecological footprint

Tracy Lee Karner
A miniature world on the forest floor.

We humans effect and alter the natural systems that sustains us. That’s bad news, and good news. 

  • The bad news is we humans are naturally complacent. Even when we know that we’re harming the environment, we rarely change our behavior unless pain (from disaster, from punishment) forces us to alter our ways.

In 2008, the bad news about the economy forced us to consider our excesses.

  • The good news is that we actually did shrink our expenditures, our consumption and our ecological footprint. Little change by little change, our lifestyle becomes increasingly sustainable. And it doesn’t hurt. Instead, it’s making us healthier.
  • The bad news: in 2008  our household ecological footprint  was 11:36 Earths (if everyone on the planet consumed and wasted what we did, it would have required 11:36 planet earths to support all of us). Yep, we were that piggish, even though we recycled everything and  grew many of our own vegetables and used J.R. Liggett’s shampoo and cleaned with non-polluting household products and bought recycled paper goods. We were shocked! We complacently thought we were fairly conservative. Our large house, vehicles and energy consumption were the gross culprits.
  • More Good news: our present household footprint equals 1.87 Earths (measure yours here).
  • More Bad news: it’s not possible for us to get our consumption down to 1 earth (the sustainable level) without major societal changes, because society creates the systems–energy production and distribution, transit options, waste management agencies and regulations, cultural values–that maximize and/or minimize our consumption and waste.

Now for the incredibly bad news: My individual best effort and all my success will have approximately zero impact on the global environment. There are simply too many major polluters in the world over whom I have no control. So why not just join them, and consume and pollute as if there’s no tomorrow?
Two good reasons:

  1. By changing our lifestyle, we’ve become so much healthier, it’s almost miraculous. Turns out that decreasing consumption reduces not only gluttony  but also stress. We’ve been able to stop taking most of our supposedly “health-maintenance” prescriptions and nutritional supplements because we eat healthier, wiser and just plain less. We’re lighter these days, both materially and emotionally.
  2. Also, my grandmother taught me that “everyone else is doing it!” is no valid argument for doing the wrong thing. We should do the right thing, for one simple reason: because it’s right! And doing the right thing is also the only antidote against self-loathing.

But there’s enough bad news that I still need more good news…
Umm, let me see…. Oh, yeah! You’re still with me, reading this, which means you, too, are concerned about our sustainability, right?
Thank you. I need that encouragement!
Sometimes I feel alone and, frankly, weird. Hardly anyone understands why we’ve stopped driving a car and instead rely on public transportation. People tend to assume we’re indigent (as if only poor people would ride the bus!) They can’t imagine that we choose, because we prefer, this car-free life. We feel healthier and more carefree than ever before in our lives. It has been incredibly liberating to increase our annual expendable income & savings power  by more than $15,000–not by stressing ourselves out working more hours, but by reducing costs and consumption.
I’m not saying everyone should take the bus–not everyone can. The public transportation system in most places in North America is woefully inadequate (bad news). But  we were in the enviable position of being able to choose public transit (good news), and so we did. But there are things everyone can do.
I only expect people to do what they can.

  • Really bad news–when I look around, I still see way too much overconsumption and waste. Too few people care to make any effort to change. And frankly, this is really bumming me out! So I want to hear about the people who are making an effort, any effort at all (and not just daydreaming or talking about doing something).
  • Because the really good news is this: if enough of us do something, our efforts becomes exponentially powerful.

Exponential effort is bringing the American Bald Eagle back from the edge of extinction. Exponential effort abolished slavery and put an end to Jim Crow. Exponential effort deposed the Third Reich.
Your increasing effort is combining with ours for an exponentially good effect, right?
If we all continue to set higher standards for ourselves, and if we pass on the good news, that we each can and must make a difference, we will make a difference.
So if you’re with me, tell me about your good vision for the future, and how you’re working to make your vision come true. 
Inspire me, and everyone else, to admire and emulate you. Please, tell me some good news!
Interestingly, I wrote and scheduled this post for today, July 12th, before my blogger Friend Marylin mentioned that this is Simplicity Day, and Henry David Thoreau’s birthday. Celebrate Simplicity today!

7 thoughts on “Honey, I shrunk our ecological footprint”

  1. Grandmothers are so smart, aren’t they? Kudos to you for carrying less of a burden by being less stressed, lighter and car payment free by making the planet a better place! I don’t do as much as you but I try to always bring my own bags to the store, never buy plastic water bottles, recycle all of my waste that I can and stick to a pretty strict driving route, that enables me to fill up once every two weeks. It’s little things but I feel better for participating!

    1. All the little things add up to big results! (but actually, it sounds like you’re doing a LOT) And if the masses of people who never think about it, each did one little thing to reduce consumption/waste, it would be a big deal.

  2. We try our best. We recycle EVERYTHING, eschew all plastics, organically raise most of our summer veggies, buy local meat, milk and eggs. We bought a Hybrid Honda this year to replace an old gas guzzler and watch our weekly mileage (public transport just doesn’t work for me at this point).
    But Most Important!!! We are planning to build an essentially “green” house [ (-: , he, he ] and move where we can have our own chickens, goats and bees along with bigger gardens. As much “off the grid” as possible – that’s our goal.
    And although most of our friends share our perspective, I never hesitate to talk about the dire straits our planet is in because of our lack of consciousness.
    I enjoyed your links!

    1. It’s been a long, slow but ever-progressive journey toward a simpler life that began 14 years ago, and I still feel I have a lot to learn. One of our friends has been a life-long “student” of Thoreau’s, and we’ve learned much from his example.

  3. What a great post, Tracy! It is so true that most of us have been forced to overconsumption and waste by an increasingly materialistic and consumeristic society model that works by creating psychological “needs” in consumers’ minds just for the sake of continuously increasing sales and please the shareholders.
    I also hope things will gradually change for the better, but it is difficult unless people see through the ads and commercials and realize that their lifestyle does not depend on always purchasing the latest and the greatest so they do not fall behind in the “race” with their acquaintances, but to be content with what they have and to consume in moderation.
    We shall see…

    1. I agree with you whole-heartedly. I’ve long been pondering what it would take for large groups of people to change their minds/values about which “needs,” when fulfilled, make life essentially “good.” In some ways it should be so obvious to us. Love, familial relationships and friendship, simple pleasures (tasty food and drink, warmth in winter, refreshing breezes in summer), respect, a sane amount of peace/freedom from terror…
      What finally reaches us, and makes us STOP believing the manipulative, exploiting lies that we so easily fall into that push us to join the rat race and behave, basically, like rats in a maze?
      I don’t have the answer, but I’m sure thinking about it, hard and often. Because it’s important.
      Thanks for weighing in!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *