Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. To be quite honest, I've always found them silly. Why does the turning of the New Year necessitate false promises (to be better people, or lose weight, or save money, etc., etc.)that most of us won't or can't keep anyway. I mean, why is improving oneself or one's relationships tied to the passage of time? Why wouldn't you try to be a better person in the middle of June, or September? And why not watch your weight earlier than Dec. 31st, BEFORE you've binged on egg nog, cookies and pumpkin pie? For that matter, why not resolve to save money BEFORE Christmas and perhaps it wouldn't be quite the commercialized circus that it's become. Call me cynical, or perhaps it's hopeful depending on how you look at it, but I don't see the point of waiting until the end of the year to reflect on your life and resolve to make it better. In my mind, that's something that should be done every day. Whether or not we live up to it is another thing.
Anyway, I bring up resolutions because I think I've stumbled on to one that I highly recommend to those of you searching for something noble to latch on to for the New Year. It's something I resolved to do years ago, and has been an ongoing ambition ever since; to reduce my ecological footprint. "What's an ecological footprint?" you ask. Well, check out Ecological Footprint and you'll see what it's all about. But for those of you that don't want to bother clicking, here's the skinny. According to the website, "This Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and what you discard. After answering 15 easy questions you'll be able to compare your Ecological Footprint to what other people use and to what is available on this planet." Basically, your ecological footprint boils down to how much of the planet is required to support the natural resources you consume and discard, and then estimates the number of earths required to maintain your lifestyle if everyone on the planet lived as you do. The results can be quite surprising!
Ok, now I know some of you are thinking, "Enough with the tree-hugging, veggie-burger-eating, save-the-whales, Al-Gore-movie-toting hippy thoughts." I know the quiz and my resolution sound like yet another want-to-be environmentalist's promise to do their part, but trust me, it's more sincere than that. For the past several years, I have made a conscious effort to reduce my level of consumption in the interest of the planet's health. My family lives in a modest home, we only own one economy sized, gas efficient, low emissions car, we use public transportation (at least in NY - SC leaves something to be desired in that regard) or walk to reduce the use of said car, we limit our consumption of meat, specifically red meat (cows are raised in pastures that have been clear-cut in the heart of rainforests across the globe, not to mention the destruction of the American prairie habitat), we recycle, we reuse, and we try in every way to reduce our rubbish output (with the guilt-ridden exception of disposable diapers which rank highest in percentage of single items occupying American landfills). Granted, some of these choices are also financially motivated as we are a one income family. However, even when my husband and I had no children and were both working, we still maintained an ecologically conscientious lifestyle, and perhaps even more so than we are able to now that we do have children. Yet, even with all the small things we do that add up to a lot, we still had a much more significant "footprint" than I'd like. According to my results, if everyone on the planet lived as we do (1 car, energy efficient appliances, public transport/walking, limited meat consumption, recycling everything we can, reducing waste, reusing products as much as possible, modest home, etc.) we would still need just under 3!!! earths to support the world's population. That scares me.
It brings up a whole host of thoughts concerning the American lifestyle and our need to consume not just the world's natural resources, but everything else we can get our hands on as well. We're like junkies heading out in our over-sized, gas-guzzling SUV's to the Wal-Mart or Target (or as I like to call it, "the red dot boutique," or pronounced with a French accent "Tarjjay") to get our latest fix. It begs the question, "Do we really NEED all of this stuff?" And do we have to get it in the largest, most fuel inefficient vehicle we can find loaded with seat warmers and DVD's and a whole host of other stuff? Don't get me wrong. I think that stuff is cool too. I like the idea of going out to my car in the cold morning and getting a warm Starbuck's mocha to go with my equally warm tush. And indulging in some of life's eccentricities IN MODERATION is fine I'm sure. But I just can't help but wonder if the American interpretation of the word, "need," and how we act on it isn't just the least bit responsible for the current planetary condition.
As animal residents on this planet, and yes, we are ANIMALS by definition despite our arrogant suppostion to the contrary, we NEED only 4 things: food, water, shelter, and a little bit of space (enough to sustain our basic needs). The rest of the animal kingdom gets that (as did many indigenous people for that matter); living harmoniously with the world, taking only what is necessary to survive. Perhaps if we thought of ourselves more as guests of this planet rather than rulers hell-bent on controlling it, we'd treat the world and its natural inhabitants with a little more respect. Think about it, when you're a guest in someone's home, you don't go in and eat up all their food, throw your scraps all over the floor, fill the place up with noxious gas, and then leave. As guests of this planet, perhaps we should behave a little more graciously, wiping our feet at the door as we enter and leave, being sure to leave little to no "footprint" behind.