Being a good steward
How much land does it take to support my current lifestyle? Before researching this, I considered myself above average in my actions to be environmentally friendly. I try to avoid waste in general (energy, food, and natural resources) and do not consider myself an abuser of the environment. I buy organic food at the market whenever possible, and try to feed my family healthy meals. We are not conspicuous consumers by my standards.
Humanity’s total ecological footprint in is estimated at 1.5 Earths. It is not surprising that the United States has the largest per capita footprint at 11 acres per person. European per capita footprint is five acres and the ideal footprint is closer to six acres.
One online quiz showed that it would take more than six Earths to support my lifestyle. I understand that there are many things that I could be doing better to conserve natural resources and live a more responsible, “greener” life. These changes are not necessarily large lifestyle changes, but I realize that there are many small changes I could make in my daily habits that would help shrink my family’s ecological footprint. Inserted here is one graphic of a quiz I took at EarthDay.org:
Living Large in Rural America
My family lives in the Anthracite Coal Region of east-central Pennsylvania. The terrain is mountainous (we are in the Appalachian Mountain Range and the Appalachian Trail crosses our southern border) in most of the area, with some flat farmlands in the valleys. The area is extremely rocky and can be steep. Because we sometimes show large tracts of land by vehicle and must navigate snow and ice in the mountains in the winter, many real estate agents drive trucks and SUVs. I am no exception.
I drive a gas hog, a Hummer H3. I did drive a more conservative car for a short time period, but after getting stuck and being unable to leave my house when the roads were bad, I quickly switched back to the SUV. It’s not fun filling up the tank (which costs me about $75 as of May, 2012), but the days when I am trying to come home in the midst of a snowstorm and I shift into 4-wheel drive or when I am taking clients through a 100-acre parcel of land planted in Christmas trees, I appreciate the convenience. And it is a convenience. I understand I am using more than my fair share of gasoline when I drive this vehicle every day, but other than purchasing a second vehicle for everyday driving, I don’t see a solution.
In fact, our family of four already owns more than its fair share of vehicles, compared to the rest of the planet. My husband is a lumber inspector and drives a large truck up and down the northeastern United States, covering his large territory. My son in college did have a Ford F-150 truck which he traded for a smaller, more gas friendly car. He works construction over the summer and his commute is an hour each way, every day. My 16-year-old son is saving for his first vehicle, which we’ve already earmarked for a used Nissan truck at a nearby dealer.
Being in a rural area, I do buy a lot of my food direct from farmers. We buy produce in-season from farm stands and out of season we buy from a local fruit and vegetable market. None of that is packaged. We also buy a half a pig that is butchered nearby each year, and we are a family of hunters. Right now I have turkeys, venison, and bear meat in the freezer that we eat year round. However, each week I go grocery shopping at a chain store and do buy packaged food. I have never thought much about the amount of packaging in store-bought food, or in the distance it takes to truck the food to the market.
I also did not realize the impact animal protein and byproducts have had on the environment. We don’t eat meat at every meal as some families do, but we do eat our share of chicken and beef. I have always considered chicken to be a healthy meal, and have not thought about the impact that chicken farming may be having on the environment. When possible we do buy locally produced meat and organic products, even though these tend to cost more than at the grocery store.
Our area is not recycle-friendly. Some neighboring towns do have days that you can put out recyclables in special bins. However, being rural, our trash provider does not have this service. To recycle, each home owner would separate their trash and take it to a central point in the township to be separated. These bins frequently are full or even overflowing, so trash tends to accumulate in the area around the recycle center, which is the opposite of what the center should be for. Our township should have recycle pickups more frequently, to cut down on the trash around the bins, yet there is no budget for the increase in pickup.
Small Changes Can Make Big Impact
In reading through the online quizzes I realize that how we eat in my house matters to the Earth. As the main shopper for my family, I can choose to purchase more of my food locally, from nearby farmers and produce stands. I can also choose to buy less packaged foods from the grocery store, or choose the packaging with the least amount of waste to throw away. I already try to shop smart and don’t buy more than I think we’ll eat in a week. But waste does happen and I should be making several small trips to buy fresh food rather than one large trip with many frozen foods and cans.
As for my driving habits and our cars, perhaps I should rethink a second vehicle for myself. I could have the Hummer when I need to show farmlands and in the winter, but drive a more compact, gas conservative car during the good weather. I drive a lot of miles each year with my career, so setting aside some miles for the gas hog and driving the car the remainder of the time could save us money and gas. While public transportation (bus or train) would be a nice alternative, that is not feasible in my area. There are no bus stops in my rural area that would take me to town to my work, and the train is not an option. We have no good public transportation unless you live directly in town, which most of us do not.
Even furniture should be considered from an ecological perspective. I am currently shopping for new outdoor patio furniture. In my research I see some patio sets are being advertised as ecological friendly, long lasting, and the green choice. Furniture made of teak and eucalyptus are especially favored on the websites I am shopping at this week, and the website has a green leaf next to any furniture it has decided are green friendly. This will impact my decision on which set to buy.
The Earth and Her Daughters
There is an intertwined, synergistic relationship between our planet Earth and us. No single human, no organism, can survive without the Earth being in balance. If we use and misuse our natural resources, we will suffer as humans. When we pollute and waste what the Earth has given us, we all suffer. We are guardians of the Earth and must make rational, reasonable choices in how we use the resources around us. Otherwise, we have nobody to blame but ourselves for the mess we could leave for future generations.
We are stewards of the Earth, and of finite natural resources. It is up to us to use it wisely and protect it for our children. While my efforts to buy local and feed my family healthy food, to conserve energy and resources, have been good, they can be better. By making small efforts in purchasing smart materials and not supporting waste and pollution are a good effort, I should make a better attempt at living a greener lifestyle. The Earth and our children deserve a better legacy.