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What Size is your Carbon Footprint?

Story ID:5247
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:various various usa
Year:2009
Person:Dave Chameides
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As customary- this morning Casey, my dog and I made our daily walk - a "Rosary"
walk for me. a sniffing one for her and great needed exercise for both of us. I
hope though that the Blessed Virgin Mary will forgive me this day because
between the Hail Mary's - I couldn't help but be distracted by the garbage on
the tree lawns. I thought - I bet I can tell who makes the smallest and the
largest carbon footprints among this street's households!

Even before this expression was coined, many of us whose parents survived the
depression - learned from them not to waste. That lesson never left me though
surprisingly, it did my younger sister. Even then as a small child, I worried
about what happened to the garbage and certainly there was much less of it in
the 30's and 40's. Somehow I think we would do well to go back to those simpler
times. It certainly would help our environment. And even though I am saddened
by the recession - we are learning some hard lessons in re to taking better
care of our possessions as well as finding out that we don't need all those
superfluous things we had been buying and which now land on our tree lawns.

I love the expression - "carbon footprint" and I wondered who was the author of
it. The internet shed some light for me. It developed from the ecological footprint
concept and calculation method developed by Mathis Wackernagle. This was the
basis of his PhD dissertation he wrote in 1990 under the direction of Prof. William
E. Rees at the University of Br. Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Wackernagel is
Swiss-born and today is a sustainabililty advocate currently residing in Oakland,
CA as Executive Director for Global Footprint Network.

As for the concept of the ecological footprint, Wikipedia offers this short concise
explanation---".....a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems. It
compares human demand with planet Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate.
It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to
regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render
harmless the corresponding waste. Using this assessment, it is possible to
estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to
support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle. For 2005, humanity's total
ecological footprint was estimated at 1.3 planet Earths - in other words, humanity
uses ecological services 1.3 times as fast as Earth can renew them."

I would imagine many serious readers already knew this but I didn't. And if true-
this is frightening, and it seems to validate my young mind's concern re all the
garbage we were generating way back then.

Now a tale of two very different people representing two extremes of the carbon
footprint concept. You too may know people like either or both of them.

The first is a neighbor of mine who I can't figure out why she moved into our
ethnic neighborhood of older well-kept small homes. Mine was built in 1905 and
I managed to keep it in good order - hopefully without a lot of wasteful changes.

But this neighbor - almost from day one - needed to make changes to her 2-
porch colonial. I really hoped the slate roof needed to be torn down because I
understand that they are pretty hardy and expensive to lay. Now she has a
shingled roof like the rest of us. Then she tore down her 2-car garage and
wanted to put up a 4-car garage in a very small yard. So, far - if she has applied
for a variance - it hasn't been granted. Now, there was a problem with one or
both of her porches. Instead of trying to fix the problem - she had them both torn
down. It took almost a year to get them back up and since damage was done
to the lovely pale green siding in this demolition process - yes, you've guessed it-
she had all the siding removed. Despite one of the workers assuring me that the
old siding was recycled- I could not help but remember seeing all the waste lumber,
insulation, etc. being carted out to the dump. I would imagine her carbon footprint
to be pretty big. I hope I am wrong.

Now at the other spectrum of this carbon footprint continuum is Dave Chameides.
I bet that many of you have heard about him too. He's the one who decided to
collect all his trash in his basement for a year to ascertain the amount of
garbage he produced. In the process, he decided to use worms to decompose
the paper waste.

I found two interesting links re him on the internet. One writer labeled the
article about him -"Talking Trash" -another "Walkin' the Talk." I liked the latter
because as they say -unless you put your foot where your mouth is - then it's
all pretty much just empty chatter.

But when Chameides aka Sustainable Dave spoke before a Chico State University
audience, he chose to call his lecture - "Chasing Sustainability." One of the many
important points he made in his talk was recognizing how difficult it is for people
to know the consequences of their actions. He said that consumers are far
removed from the complex disposal process.

Because he finds talk re Global warming to be polarizing, he glossed over this
topic but provided his audience with helpful tips which made sense no matter
how they viewed this issue. Visit 365daysofsolutions.blogspot.com if interested.

He also noted that making radical shifts in our thinking is needed to affect
change. And he shows that he has made a number of them. From his ever
present backpack he pulls out a toothbush holder carrying eating utensils, a
coffee mug, a reusable water bottle and a collapsible bowl - insuring that he will
not need any disposable products.

This lanky 39-year old married Hollywood cameraman with two children said
that we are the most wasteful society in the world and I doubt many will disagree
with this statement. In ending his talk at the university, he noted that he had
been talking for 45 minutes and asked the audience if they knew how many plastic
bags (which he doesn't use) have entered the landfill. The answer -forty-five
million-which clog landfills and contaminate the ocean and its marine life. The
sad part for me is that we are becoming so blaze at statistics like this. That
too is frightening.

This environmentalist has also 'walked the talk' by outfitting his Los Angeles
home with solar panels. His converted Volkswagon runs on vegetable oil and
not least of all -the 31 pounds of his accummulated trash over a year pales
in insignificance to the average American's of 1,600 pounds.

I would be happy- Dave Chameides -if only some of your sustainable ideas would
rub off on us. And yes, we're in this together. There's no rhyme or reason to
think that George (or Dave) can do it by himself.