Environmental Footprint

Via Kianoush, I found this quiz which tells you your environmental footprint. Here are my results:


Category Acres
Food 4.9
Mobility 1.7
Shelter 4.0
Goods/Services 4.0
Total Footprint 15.0

In comparison, the average ecological footprint in your country is 24 acres per person.

Worldwide, there exist 4.5 biologically productive acres per person.

If everyone lived like you, we would need 3.3 planets.

Great, I consume too much! So what should I do? If I reduce my meat intake from daily to a vegan diet, it would reduce my footprint by 3 acres. But is that true? I would need a lot more food as well as not get enough of all the food types I need. Plus a vegan diet is definitely not healthy for children.

Or I can reduce my footprint by 2 acres by not eating processed, packaged and not locally grown (from more than 200 miles away) food. Ah, the organic movement! While I consider myself an environmentalist and like the sustainable aspect of organic food, today’s organic food movement is nothing but feel good for the rich. It is expensive food grown using practices that cannot be duplicated across the world without famine or an economic collapse. Also, if we really need to go back to nature, we could return to subsistence agriculture or the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and lead miserable, short lives (especially for the agriculturalists). What is actually needed is sustainable agriculture combined with high yields so that we can grow enough food without impacting the environment so much. Can someone please enlighten me on organic food? And the big SUVs in the parking lots of Whole Foods?

Just my air travel (25 hours per year) adds 3 acres to the footprint. I guess traveling is out then or may be I can bike to Europe and Pakistan!

If I do everything reasonable I can think of, I still go down to only 2.4 planets.

Category Acres
Food 3.7
Mobility 0.7
Shelter 3.5
Goods/Services 3.0
Total Footprint 11.0

In fact, I’ll have to give up flying anywhere, give up almost all meat (not even once or twice a week), not drive anywhere in my car, and live in the smallest apt I can find to go below 4.5 acres. My guess is that the quiz is a bit of the alarming kind.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. Zack, i know this is off topic, but
    Your dad is based in Islamabad right? Everything all right with him?

  2. I think this a veiled attempt to get me to write a post about my research…:)

    Anyway, the Eco-FootPrint stuff comes from a couple of fellows in Vancouver, Canada. Mathias Wackernagel and William Rees produced a method of converting ecological impacts into a measure more readily understood by the general public (area). Previous, common measures included monetary units and eco-points. Externalities make monetary units notoriously inaccurate, and it’s not clear when a person has used too many eco-points. But, land, land we understand.

    Zack is rather concerned about his consumption of food, and he wonders about the accuracy of organic vs. high intensity farming. In the eco-footprint method, the energy required for high intensity farming is converted into farmed area by assuming biofuel equivalents. In fact, all energy requirements are calculated in terms of biofuel equivalents and then related to farmed area. This method obviously works against high intensity non-local sources of produce. Meat also causes trouble because of the extraordinarily miserable First Law conversion efficiencies for solar energy by biomass. On an area basis, producers (green plants) only convert 2% of inbound solar energy. We then feed these plants to cows, chickens, etc., and eventually, we eat our favorite cut from the grocer’s freezer. Unfortunately, each consumption introduces a conversion factor less than 1; so, the amount of available solar energy drops with each – inbound solar x .02 x Y x Z = something small.

    While this method is not terribly accurate, it likely understates the land area required. Not all arable land is suitable for producing biofuel crops resulting in a net energy gain, for instance. It is quite useful as a wake-up call for the consumption obsessed north and overpopulated south.

  3. Kianoush: You are right. With the exact same answers as the top results in my post but with Pakistan instead of the US, I get the following results:

    • Food = 0.5 hectares
    • Mobolity = 0.7 hectares
    • Shelter = 1 hectare
    • Goods/Services = 0.6 hectares

    So, a total footprint of 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres).

    In comparison, the average ecological footprint in your country is 0.6 global hectares per person.

    If everyone lived like you, we would need 1.6 planets.

    So, it seems the best environmental course for everyone is to move to the developing world. Just by moving from the US to Pakistan would reduce my ecological footprint by half without requiring any action on my part. Does that sound right, Captain Arrrgh?

    Captain Arrrgh:

    I think this a veiled attempt to get me to write a post about my research

    Yes, it is. 🙂

    About the biofuel methods: It focuses on the production of food and not at all on food consumption by humans (and others). What about our physiology?

    Moiz: While there is some available land where this could be done, there’s not much of it. Unless of course we count outer space.

    A: Thanks for your concern. My family is Islamabad is okay.

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