Our ecological footprints

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Şeyda DAĞDEVİREN HILL

Collectively, humanity has been on credit to the ecosystem since the 2nd of August 2017 because this was the date which we overshot the planet’s resources. In fact, the 2nd of August is Earth Overshoot Day for 2017. Therefore, we have consumed more natural resources than the planet can renew in a whole year. In effect, this means that humanity will survive on credit for natural resources, which will have been stolen from our children and grandchildren until 31st December 2017.

 

In the last few decades, countries have had economic growth, started to reduce poverty and improved well-being. Over the last 50 years the world population has increased rapidly. All of these changes put the planetary ecosystem into an unsustainable state because human beings consume the natural resources faster than the Earth can regenerate. Thus, the natural resources usage rate is 1.7 times faster than the regenerative capacity of a natural ecosystem. In other words, one planet is not enough for people’s present needs, as we are currently using the resources of 1.7 Earths.

 

You can click here to learn about your personal Earth Overshoot Day to calculate your ecological footprint. If your personal Earth Overshoot Day is later than 2nd August, you are doing better than people in certain parts of the world, but if it is earlier than 2nd August, your demand for ecological resources is higher than the world average.

 

Now I would like to share some personal experiences of my life here in Istanbul regarding my own footprint. The first time I calculated my Earth Overshoot Day, the result was scary. First of all, I am an Environmental Engineer and I was actively involved in doing projects for the environment. Therefore, in my mind, I should not have had a really big ecological footprint. For me the change started at that time because I never thought about how significant the impact was on the environment from my lifestyle. Consequently, I faced up to the reality from the effect of my own lifestyle on the environment and afterwards I started to develop small improvements as I changed things in my life.

 

The Ecological Footprint measures human demand on nature, which affects the ecosystem’s supply of resources and services. On the supply side, a city, state, or nation’s bio capacity represents its biologically productive land and sea area, including forestlands, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land. On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures a population’s demand for plant-based food and fibre products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.1

 

Carbon Footprint

Firstly, I would like to introduce you to the Carbon Footprint (which I am sure many of you are familiar with from the media), which is one piece of the total Ecological Footprint. The Carbon Footprint measures the total amount of greenhouse gases, which are produced directly or indirectly by activities. Moreover, this includes activities of individuals, companies, and government and so forth, which produce the equivalent of tons of carbon dioxide. Activities such as travelling, heating a house, buying food and goods etc. produce greenhouse gases, which we are not even aware of. However, it is not wrong to have a carbon footprint, but if it is big, it may have an adverse effect on the planet. Let’s see by clicking here how big your carbon footprint is.

 

Water Footprint

The Carbon Footprint is obviously a widely used concept by society. In fact, most people know about it, but the other part of the total Ecological Footprint is the Water Footprint, which is not at all well known. The Water Footprint Network’s definition is:

 

”The Water Footprint is a measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted.”

 

So now, let’s have a look at your water footprint.

 

Basically, we should not think about the carbon and water footprints separately, even though they seem that they are addressing different environmental issues. In actuality, they are concepts, which complement each other.

 

Now I would to share with you some simple suggestions for the reduction of both of your footprints in a similar way:

 

 

How to reduce your carbon and water footprints?

 

  • Buy only the amount of food which you need

Because, how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations food wastage carbon footprint works, shows that if food wastage were one country, it would be the third largest country. Also the FAO highlight that cereals, fruits and meat are major contributors to the blue water footprint for food wastage.

 

  • Know the impact of what you are eating

According to The Water Footprint Network’s data, it requires about 15415 litres of water to produce one kg of beef, 2494 litre per kg of rice and 18900 litres per kg of roasted coffee. Here is more information about how much water is used to make a variety of products. Most of us know we can reduce our carbon footprint by a quarter just by cutting down on red meats such as beef and lamb. Join #meatfreemondays and click here.

 

  • Save the energy, save the planet

A study in Northern California by the Natural Defences Council says that devices that are “standby” or “sleep mode” can use up electricity. The energy sector contributes about 40% of global emissions of carbon dioxide. Producing 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity takes about 25 gallons of water. At the same time using less electricity means using less water and also reducing carbon monoxide emissions.

 

  • Turn off the tap to lighten your impact

If you turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, you can save 8 gallons of water per day and, while shaving, can save 10 gallons of water per shave. Do not forget that water consumption has a carbon footprint too. Here are more water statistics and facts from EPA.

 

  • Shopping ethically for the environment

If you are not shy about purchasing second-hand clothing, do it. Instead of throwing away your clothes, learn how to repair them. Another way is to recycle or donate your clothes. Support the brands, which are eco-conscious.

 

In the U.S. only 10% of donated clothes get resold. The rest floods landfills – we send 13 trillion tons of our clothes to landfills in the U.S. alone where they sit for 200 years leaving toxic chemicals and dyes to contaminate local soil and groundwater.

 

Society is vital. Everyone’s contribution is equally important to change. As people, we need to realise that we are doing something good for future generations. Therefore, I feel that small changes are a substantially important starting point. Reducing our ecological footprint, in other words carbon and water footprints, is a big contribution to mitigating environmental problems.

 

Now it is time to change our act. We make choices in our daily lives consciously or unconsciously as individuals. If we make small individual changes, they will lead to significant aggregate results because we are part of the change.

 

We only have one planet. It has a limited amount of resources. If we want to leave a better world for future generations, we have to create a sustainable life for ourselves.

 

Do not forget that small acts will make big impacts.

 

We all can create “The Future We Want”.

 

Şeyda DAĞDEVİREN HILL, Istanbul, October 21, 2017.