If everyone lived like me we'd all be in trouble

If every person consumed as much of the Earth's resources as I do, we'd need five identical planets to handle the demand.

The number of acres required to sustain my lifestyle is equally disturbing.

The Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and discard. The quiz was developed by Redefining Progress, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank endorsed by various labor and environmental advocates.

I know the "L" word is coming to mind, but let's evaluate the method and the madness.

The method is manipulation through guilt. But would it actually cause a person to change how much they consume? That's the madness.

It's an entertaining quiz to take. This is coming from someone who grew up taking those "Does he really like you?" quizzes in teen rags with friends.

In 15 questions found at www.myfootprint.org, the organization claims to find your "ecological footprint" (the amount of nature that your lifestyle requires) and compares it to what other people use and what is available on the planet.

It comes with this disclaimer in all caps, italicized and bolded. Two exclamation points. "Caution: This quiz may surprise you, shock you, or make you think. Please remain calm ... but not too calm."

Hooray. I'm all for things that surprise me.

The only thing is, it doesn't. I've heard the spiel. I know, as Americans, we consumer a vast amount of natural resources compared to people in less-developed countries. (Japan has outstripped the United States in many areas.)

Then there's that thing about how 10 percent of the world (meaning the Northern Hemisphere) consumes 90 percent of the world's resources and 90 percent of the world (the Southern Hemisphere) consumes only 10 percent.

Those I hear this from are often ready with four or five stats to back it up, which I can counter with just one: We make more money. Why wouldn't we consume more if we have the money to buy it? That's what happens when you have a successful economy and no despot. Sorry about that. Guess I'll stop working and go live in Europe where I can take several months off for vacation.

That'll get old fast.

Or, if I have a baby in France any time soon I'll have four months of maternity leave and a free nanny ... wait a minute, that actually sounds pretty good.

My lifestyle requires 21 acres. And I'm the recycler of the house. I try to buy from socially reputable companies, and, seriously, New Balance has some expensive shoes. But the quiz didn't ask me that. I drive more than a UPS delivery person. And I eat all processed and packaged food. The quiz asked that. It did ask how big my house is, and if I have running water. (Question: would someone who doesn't have running water have access to the Internet to take this quiz?)

My 21 acres is slightly less than what the average American requires, which is 24, according to the think tank. Before I could feel smug about beating all those wasteful Americans, I read this: "Worldwide, there exist 4.5 biologically productive acres per person. If everyone lived like you, we would need 4.7 planets."

Well, not everybody makes my hefty salary or drives a Honda Civic, either.

I asked Jennifer Russell, vice-president of Capital City Entertainment, to take the quiz.

"Oh my gosh," she exclaimed after discovering her footprint (35 acres) and how many planets her lifestyle would demand if everybody lived as she does (7.8).

"I feel like I'm very aware of environmental issues and I'm concerned with the environment, so I'm very surprised that I use so many planets," she said.

Russell thought she would score well on the quiz. Her car gets good gas mileage. On trash day she notices her pile on the curb isn't as high as others on her block. Russell is pregnant (she doesn't know if it's a boy or girl, "It's the last greatest surprise in the world!"), so she's been watching what she eats.

What did her in was food choice. Organic foods are harder to find and much more expensive, she said. Her 3,200-square-foot home increased her score. She thought that was a little unfair. The multiple-choice question cuts off the scale at "2,500-square-feet or larger." She countered that another category would be fair for those who have more space, but don't live in mansions.

"I will be more conscious of choices I make," Russell said. "I don't think we live in an area where it's possible, such as with public transportation. And there's not as many options for nonprocessed foods."

Would our economy survive if every American consumed only 4.5 acres (their recommendation for an equitable lifestyle)? The think tank's Sustainable Economics Program works to develop and promote market-based policies that protect the environment and grow the economy, according to the Web site.

Last I heard the oil companies are reaping in profits. And big homes are part of the American Dream.

Market forces change the economy. That means you and I. I don't want to buy a car that gets less than 40 miles to the gallon. I want a home that conserves energy. I want these things because it's smart economics.

A few people have called me about hiring for the truss manufacturing company in Silver Springs. Pick up applications at the job site, 600 Lake St., inside the superintendent's trailer.

Starting with 25 employees in July, Builders Choice will make trusses for the residential construction industry, a booming market in the area. Trusses made in Silver Springs will be shipped from Utah to Northern California. In a few years, the plant will grow to 200 employees working five production lines in a couple of shifts.

Those new jobs in the area pay an average of $15 an hour, said regional economic expert Larie Trippet, with the Northern Nevada Development Authority.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.


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