One Planet Living

If everyone in the world consumed the same amount of resources and produced as much waste as the average person in Western Europe, we’d need three planets. If we all lived like the North Americans, we’d need five. On the global scale, we’re using just over one and a half Earths worth of resources and pollution assimilation capacity. This is only (temporarily) possible because we’re burning coal, oil and gas which are literally millions of years of solar energy compacted into convenient fossil fuels. It’s all very well saying ”we’d need three planets…” but that’s an abstract comparison, because obviously we can’t get more than one. Apart from the use of ancient fossilized sunlight, the other reason it’s possible for people in Europe and America to have such large ecological footprints is because about two billion out of the total seven billion people live in extreme poverty.

I want to live a lifestyle that could theoretically be lived by everyone, I want to use only one seven-billionth of the Earth’s productive land. I want to use no more than my fair share. In other words, I want a one planet lifestyle.

Unfortunately, I’m quite far away from that goal.

According to this sustainability calculator, if everyone lived like me we’d need about 2.5 planets.

One Planet Living, not my image.

One Planet Living, not my image. The calculator uses these 10 principles of sustainability to calculate your footprint.

Yes, that’s less than the average for the UK, where I live. But considering how thoughtful I think I’ve been, it’s higher than I expected/hoped. I’m vegan, I buy organic local vegetables, recycled toilet paper and clothes from charity shops. I only travel by public transport and always recycle. I use an ethical bank, donate monthly to three NGOs and only use natural cleaning products. All this is great, but my lifestyle is still shockingly unsustainable. There’s several areas that I think let me down, some of which are partly outside my control:

I throw away waste food
Because: my council doesn’t  recycle food waste and I don’t have a garden. 
What I have done: I’ve sent my MP two letters asking her to implement food waste collection, to no avail.  
What I could do: plan meals to reduce waste, look into indoor composting? 

My flat has no energy saving adaptations
Because: I’m only renting and my landlord isn’t interested in investing.
What I have done: Only put the heating on if it’s snowing!
What I could do: Approach my landlord about long-term money savings from energy efficiency.

I take baths not showers
Because: My flat only has a bath.
What I have done: Hassled my landlord frequently about a shower installation, taken fewer baths.
What I could do: Offer to pay half the cost for a shower to be installed.

I do buy some new consumer goods, e.g. clothes, books etc
Because: second hand shops don’t always have what I want.
What I have done: kept shopping to a minimum, often brought second hand, chosen independent shops.
What I could do: Stay focused on what I went in for when shopping!

Using the sustainability calculator has reminded me that just caring about sustainability isn’t enough, I need to continue to adapt my lifestyle. I think I’ve lately been a bit naive by thinking I’m already living a very eco-friendly lifestyle, when in actual fact there is still a fair bit of room for improvement. The FAQ on the website said it’s very unusual for Western citizens to be able to get to the one planet level because so many things are dependant on the infrastructure of the society you live in, as well as individual behaviour. Taking this into account, I think I should be able to get mine down to two planets at least.

It’s shocking really, that for a well-meaning and environmentally minded citizen, using twice their fair share of the Earth’s resources would be an achievement. To me this really shows how unsustainable the global socio-economic system is.
I’m going to tackle the key areas I’ve outlined above, and I can only hope to do my bit as a postgraduate environmentalist once I’ve finished studying.

If you like, why not  use the calculator I used and post your score in the comments section?


11 thoughts on “One Planet Living

  1. Tegan, Don’t feel bad, the calculator was rigged. of the answers available I first answered honestly, and needed 2,4 planets. Then redid it with the best available answers and need: 2.4 planets. Also, it did not include options which actually fit my life style. From what you described, you do very well and it would NOT take 2.5 planets for a world of thoughtful people like you.

    • Really? That’s very interesting, I’m going to fill it out with other answers and see how it comes out. I was a bit confused when my boyfriend – who does very little to lessen his footprint – got only O.1 ”planets” more than me. But, did you use the short or long version? The long version is more accurate and has more options that might apply to you. Thanks for commenting.

        • Hmm. I redid the short version with the best answers and it came out as 2.1 planets. I redid it with the worst answers and it came out as 3.9 planets. I don’t think it’s rigged exactly, but it seems it’s impossible to get less than ”2.1 planets” which seems misleading as there are people in the world who have a small footprint. Even the average Chinese person is living at roughly ”one planet”. It must be because the calculator is developed in the UK. It’s hard to know how accurate these things are though.

      • I did it over using the long. Went up to 4+ planets. I live in USA in a river swamp 10 miles from the nearest store and shop 1-3 X month. Long version still didn’t offer the correct options, but I did answer as honestly as possible. My computer uses the most electricity, that I use. Calculator said I should bicycle more. Ha!!! I averaged the miles to miles/week which told the poll that many short car trips take place We also have well water, and no garbage collection services. It might work for an urban dweller. Also, for purchases I averaged it out, so that it probably calculated as lots of small frequent purchases, but I am closer to the .1 end of the allowance. Ha! And I do hang the laundry on a clothes line. (smiley face goes here). Oh yeah, many people use more hot water in the shower than others use in a tub. Enjoy your baths.—Bear

  2. Tegan, I tried to take the quiz but my answers aren’t listed. For example I have zero bedrooms and only 1 external wall, the lowest it goes is one bedroom and 2 external walls. I’ve taken similar quizzes over the years as I reduced to see how much further I need to go. I’ve got my numbers down to just slightly over one plant. But I own no hairdryer, large kitchen appliances etc. It really is hard to go much lower for me in I need heat in the winter months. Food in working on, if I can grow and buy enough go get me through winter without needing a store my number should fall lower,but its a struggle to live in the US and live sustainably.

    That said I have a couple of suggestions that might help you. About needing a shower, have you checked the hardware stores, even WalMart for a shower attachment? These are basically a long hose with a shower head on the end you slide over the faucet. My dil had one for her house that didn’t have a shower. Its made from a flexible plastic/rubber but if it saved on water it might be worth it to you.

    The other thing that I thought if was concerning your food waste. Living alone but having cooked for a family for 21 years I can still cook too much. Rather than putting the leftovers in the fridge hoping to eat them before they go bad I have stored all leftovers immediately in the freezer, can’t wait to get my new freezer so I can do this again, but this might work for you too.

    • Hm, the quiz definitely has a few limitations. From what I can tell, it sounds like you’re doing a great job – I wish I had as low a footprint as you! Although to be fair I only moved out of my family home three years ago.
      Thanks for your suggestions! Unfortunately it seems I can’t install a shower attachment myself – something to do with where the boiler’s placed, there isn’t enough pressure so an electric shower would need to be used if any.
      About the food, you’re right, I definitely should freeze it. I know this sounds silly but I don’t have a microwave and find it awkward to defrost things.. Do you have any tips for doing this? I guess just leaving a tub on the counter for a few hours… ?
      Thanks for commenting :)

      • Are you sure about the shower? I have an electric boiler too and could slip one over my faucet, its just like running bathwater. There is no shut off on it, it just directs the water

        • Hmm well my landlord and a plumber have both told me it’s something to do with there not being enough gravity pressure.. My boiler (which is pretty old) is on the same level as my bathroom. We actually do have a shower head attachment for our bath taps, but there’s no pressure so the water just drips out the side of it… I’m working on persuading my landlord to go halves with me on an electric shower though.


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