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Brother, can you spare a planet?
by Nathan Orme
Feb 27, 2010 | 735 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My girlfriend called me in tears last week. Not because of how Scott is treating pregnant Kourtney on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (that was my first guess) but because she had just taken a quiz online to determine her “ecological footprint.” It upset her to see how the Center for Sustainable Economy determined that she was not playing nice with the Earth.

She took the quiz as part of an assignment for her environmental studies class at Truckee Meadows Community College. Like myself and many others, she had a vague idea of how her life was affecting the environment but it is rare to be told that we consume so much that we’d need multiple planets to sustain us. That’s kind of an eye-opener.

So as not to be alone in her guilt, she told me to take the quiz. I found the Web site,, and read about it. Here is exactly what is told me: “The Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates the area of land and ocean required to support your consumption of food, goods, services, housing, and energy and assimilate your wastes. Your ecological footprint is expressed in ‘global hectares’ (gha) or ‘global acres’ (ga), which are standardized units that take into account the differences in biological productivity of various ecosystems impacted by your consumption activities. Your footprint is broken down into four consumption categories: carbon (home energy use and transportation), food, housing, and goods and services. Your footprint is also broken down into four ecosystem types or biomes: cropland, pastureland, forestland, and marine fisheries.”

“This will be fun,” I thought to myself. “Just one more thing to feel bad about.”

With my conscience grimacing, I started the quiz by inputting my home country as the United States of America. That immediately scored points against me, I am sure. I proceeded to answer a series of questions about my energy use, garbage production, recycling and driving and eating habits. I felt good that I was able to say I buy energy-efficient light bulbs, I turn off lights and computers when I am not using them, my recycling pile is always as high as my garbage pile and I keep my thermostat low in the winter (my girlfriend always complains how cold it is in my house). On the down side, I never buy organic food, I pretty much always drive my SUV by myself and I don’t recycle paper at home even though Waste Management would pick it up if I put it in a pile on the curb.

Anticipating a heaping load of liberal guilt, I completed the quiz. According to my results, if everyone on the planet lived like me we’d need 10.7 Earths. My carbon footprint is more than double the national average (and more than 200 times the global average) and 41 percent of my footprint is made on forestland, which is my favorite of all the biomes! I was almost moved to tears.

Long have I said I would like to be more Earth-friendly and this quiz made me realize I have much farther to go than I thought. It is possible that this Web site skews the results to make me feel like I am a bigger waste of space than I really am, but just thinking about the stuff I throw away and the excess water I use and the smell of the exhaust from my tailpipe are evidence enough for me. I wonder how much I increased my carbon footprint using the electricity needed to take that eco-quiz.

Does this mean I will change my lifestyle? I think I will approach it just like breaking any habit: one impulse at a time. Maybe next time I want to turn on the TV, I will read a book instead. Every other trip I make to the convenience store, I will buy an apple instead of some treat in a package I will throw away. I will work up to trading in my gas-guzzling vehicle for a wimpy little car that runs on corn oil.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go turn down the thermostat.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at
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