Reducing your ecological footprint

By: Marcus Dieterle, Editor-in-Chief 

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day by advocating for environmental reform. After 48 years, the national holiday has expanded to include one billion people in 192 countries, according to the Earth Day Network. The awareness around climate change has undoubtedly increased over these past five decades. That’s great, and the progress we’ve made should not be discounted. But we still have a lot of work to do.

For some people, environmental protection seems like a mission that should be reserved for climate scientists and other folks who know far more about the environment than you or me. But that’s just not the case. Sure, we should absolutely be looking to those scientists and peer-reviewed sources for credible information and guidance. However, that doesn’t mean we get to stay out of the fight to combat climate change. We all live on the same blue-green planet. We all have been, are being and will be affected by environmental issues. And we all need to be part of the solutions.

Climate change is a complicated issue, but solving that issue begins with identifying ways that you are personally impacting the environment. Earth Day Network has a nifty ecological footprint calculator that will help you determine how many planet Earths would be needed if everyone lived like you based on your food, waste, transportation and household energy use habits. It also calculates your “Earth Overshoot Day,” which is the day by which we would use up the resources that the Earth can renew in one year if everyone lived like you.

Full disclosure: my Earth Overshoot Day is June 1, and we would need 2.4 Earths if everyone lived like me. Fortunately, most people do not live like me. In fact, many people – particularly those living in developing countries – live a lifestyle that would require less than one Earth if everyone followed suit. While those individuals help offset some of the environmental effects of the planet’s ecological offenders, the status quo is not sustainable – nor is it fair or ethical to require people in developing countries to shoulder the burdens of climate change while developed nations reap the benefits of industrialization.

We can all look for ways to improve our ecological footprint. For me, that includes doing things like:

1. Unplugging “energy vampires” like my phone that’s still plugged into the electrical outlet despite being fully charged.

2. Installing more energy-efficient lighting in my home, and turning off lights when I’m not using them.

3. “Eating closer to the source,” by eating more plants and choosing meats from animals that transfer energy more efficiently. A lot of us – myself included – love a nice hamburger. But cows require an enormous amount of food to sustain their growth. Rather than pouring so much energy into an animal that yields relatively little meat in proportion to its energy input, society would be better off opting for more energy efficient foods. That doesn’t mean you need to cut beef out of your diet completely (I sure won’t), but try to eat it sparingly and replace it with other protein-dense foods.

In addition to being conscious of our own impact on the environment, we should also pay attention to the political influence that our elected officials have. As you approach the midterm elections later this year, get educated about your candidates’ platforms. Register to vote (seriously, it takes a minute), know your polling place (if you live in Maryland, you can find your polling place here), and actually get out to vote for candidates who prioritize environmental protection. Hold your elected officials accountable to those promises.

It’s wonderful that we have a day dedicated to this bold and beautiful planet. But caring for the Earth must go beyond one day per year. We have to commit ourselves to environmental protection every day. We only have one planet Earth, so let’s work to preserve it while we still have a chance.

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