The carbon footprint and IPAT approach failed to encompass the balance with which we live with the earth. When I lived in the city I did not often think about all the resources of the earth pulled to support the city entity itself. I never considered if urban living was more or less sustainable than country or suburban living. Certainly, when we worked in the city, living within walking distance of work seemed more sustainable. The work I did in environmental evaluations and redevelopment of Brownfield properties was clearly improved use or re-use of the land and a sustainable form of land use. How does the work you do contribute to the sustainability of your life? What is the cost of supplying cities with power, water and food? Is the ecological impact of a city greater than the ecological impact of the individuals merely because of the concentration of population? These are truly tough questions, and I do not have the simplicity of an answer that measuring a carbon footprint would. Truly measuring your ecological footprint and choices accurately might require some of the computing power of NASA.
All resources are finite. As humans our resources consist of money, time, passion and energy. In the end, where, how and when we deploy these resources will determine our comfort and happiness with our lives. Living within your personal means, financial means and your ecological means would be a sustainable life. The problem is how to determine what is or should be your ecological means, what is sustainable in a dynamic and interconnected environment. A useful model in sustainable living could be a great tool in decision making. In the real world of finite resources, careful consideration must be given to how and when we expend our resources. Recently, I came across an article by Phillip E. Savage, PE of the University of Michigan, “What Does It Mean To Be Green.” In the literature cited was a book, “Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living,” written/published in 1991 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Thanks to the internet excerpts from the book were available to read as well as a summary of the book. It appears to be a guide to the principles and actions of sustainable living on this earth. The first part of the book was even called “principals of sustainable living.”
There is a “popular adoption” of the book called “Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Survival.” That is the book I ordered. The book summary reads in part, “The principles of sustainable living are respect and care for the community of life, improvement in the quality of human life, conservation of the earth's vitality and diversity, reduction of nonrenewable resource depletion, (and) maintenance of the earth's carrying capacity… Changes in community attitudes and practice in the care of their own environments, a national framework for integrating development and conservation.” Sounds like powerful and encompassing view that I hope has not been made obsolete with the passage of 18 years. Hopefully, I will find universal principles to evaluate choices.
Until I find a truly workable model of sustainable living I will try to stumble through life’s choices, balancing wants and desires with resources and trying to make good choices for us and the earth. Following a systematic plan to reduce the non-renewable the energy footprint of our home and lives. Living within the limits of the hydraulic system of the Culpeper Basin. Acting as responsible stewards of the watershed. Making responsible choices on how we spend the money we have available. For example, I will admit that for health and taste reasons (and because I evaluated the environmental impact of CAFOs in the northwest and Texas) I buy meat from what my husband refers to as the meat underground. Every six weeks or so, I drive my little hybrid on a 35 mile roundtrip to pick up my meat order from the appointed pickup location that the husband always describes this as “under a bridge by the river.” It is actually at the end of a cul-de-sac. My meat is more expensive than what could be bought in groceries (with the exception of the grass feed organic meat at Whole Foods that I buy when we are in California). My meat co-operative is a relatively local Shenandoah Valley Farmer, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Just recently, Mr. Salatin and Polyface Farms received a Heinz Family Foundation Award for helping to bring about a cleaner, greener and more sustainable plant. After reading that in the local “Co-op Currents” I feel really good about all the money I spend on meat. Since I calculated that I have about 28,000-30,000 more meals to cook for my husband, they might as well be tasty, healthy and sustainable.
By the way, just in case you care, Salatin rotates his livestock’s location on the farm, so that different species are helped by the proximity of the other animals. He uses portable infrastructure and equipment, and does not use chemicals or fertilizers, instead using composting and pigs as aerators. He is too ornery and libertarian to jump through hoops for organic certification, so you take it or leave it with his guarantee. For anyone who has not spent time at concentrated feed lots or by their official government name “concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFOs, I recommend Michael Pollen’s excellent book, “An Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Food.”