At times, our lifestyles seem incredibly normal. While our life experiences are dramatically unique, the system in which we go about our days is more or less the same. Electricity, running water, accessible food, transportation, heat and air conditioning, among others have been the cornerstones that facilitate my lifestyle since birth. With that in mind, their presence goes overlooked the vast majority of time and can be used frivolously, if not wastefully.
Individual wastefulness can feel trivial and it’s easy to excuse yourself from criticism since “one person doesn’t make that big a difference.” Truth be told, I’ve bought into this mindset countless times. Why? Because it makes my life easier and there are no serious social consequences associated with living this way. But in an era where climate change is real, that’s right, I said real, evaluating and reformatting your traditional practices can go further than you think.
With Earth Day around the corner, I took time to take an Ecological Footprint Quiz, which I encourage anyone to take five to 10 minutes out of their day to complete. The quiz was fairly straightforward: a series of questions highlighting different types of usage, amenities, waste and forms of transportation as they relate to your life.
At the conclusion, the site analyzes your data and gives you a breakdown of the results through multiple lenses. The first lens has the biggest wow factor. The quiz estimates, based on your footprint, how many planet Earths it would take to provide enough resources for the current population if everyone lived like you. My number felt astronomically high at 5.1.
The second lens organizes your data into an easy-to-read pie chart that shows how much of your footprint can be attributed to which form of usage. Finally, the quiz estimates, based on your results, how many global acres it would take to sustain your lifestyle. My results were 22.7, and those acres are of Earth’s productive area.
These numbers most likely mean nothing to you without a reference point, but my lifestyle is not particularly wasteful, nor is it particularly unique. I recycle, I ride my bike, I live in a medium sized home with three other family members, we all drive cars.
The point I’m trying to make is this: Our first world lifestyles require many more resources than we care to admit and there are solutions that would work to lessen our footprint.
As a college student who isn’t involved in environmental studies, I don’t necessarily have the resources or pedigree to influence campus-wide consumption, but I can control my own and make low risk, high reward suggestions that would make our campus greener.
For example, walking into a Badger Market or Flamingo Run, the shelves are dominated by processed foods. A small, easily overlooked bowl of fruit is just about the only unprocessed item in the entire store.
A simple solution would be to invest in locally sourced food to fill our shelves. This would shrink our carbon footprint since the food is not traveling halfway across the globe to satisfy a craving that passes in five minutes.
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Additionally, produce, a naturally unprocessed food, is damn expensive. At campus grocery stores like Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s, produce can spin your bill out of control. As an alternative, the University of Wisconsin should invest the small amount of money it would take to provide more produce in places like Badger Market and Flamingo Run, where students already get a discount. This would both promote healthy habits as well as reduce our footprint from consuming such high amounts of processed foods.
Our world is plentiful, but our consumption habits are harming it. Investing in affordable produce is one of many low risk, high reward suggestions that could pay off down the road and keep our planet as healthy as we can.
Lucas Johnson ([email protected]) is a freshman and intends to major in journalism.