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How Large is your Carbon Footprint?

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Message Suzana Megles

As is 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 Marys - 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. 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 Chamides.

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 Chamides 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.

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I have been concerned about animal suffering ever since
I received my first puppy Peaches in 1975. She made me take a good look at the animal kingdom and I was shocked to see how badly we treat so many animals. At 77, I've been a vegan for the (more...)
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