We live on a planet where the population is huge and continually increasing, while the resources are limited and depleting. Therefore, “sustainability” has become an essential concept and movement worldwide. It means to maintain a balance between human needs and natural resources, while the resources used by human activities do not exceed the rate of natural regeneration and the ecological budget, so that there are equal and enough resources for all of us, for our future generations, and for the Earth. Ecological footprint measures our consumptions and impacts on the environment both on land and sea, including our carbon emissions, food and water consumptions etc. If our ecological footprints exceed the biocapacity of the environment that is available for us, then our lives are unsustainable as the balance has been broken. In my opinion, sustainability shouldn’t be a goal that we are aiming to achieve, but should be the responsibility that is rooted in everyone’s mind, and the first thing we should do is to reduce our ecological footprints.
Below are the results I got from Global Footprint Network on my ecological footprint.
(Fig. 1 & 2, from http://www.footprintcalculator.org/)
Based on the results, I find that the major contributions to my ecological footprint are mobility and goods by consumption category. My carbon footprint is the highest among all the resources. This reflects that I use transportations too frequently, and usually purchase nice-packaged products and use lots of plastic bags.
Tracing back to my daily lives, although I walk to school everyday since I’m a boarder, I go out by taxi or bus a lot during the weekends, as the school is quite far from the centre area of Singapore. I also travel a lot by plane, because I go back to Shanghai during every holiday, even the short mid-term breaks. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, transportation produces the largest greenhouse gases emissions in the country, as shown in the graph below, which shows how impactful it is to the environment.
This is because that most of the transportations are still petroleum-generated, and the combustion of fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which could then lead to global warming and other climate issues. In addition, fossil fuel is a non-renewable energy source formed by decayed plants or animals over millions of years, so that they’ll eventually run out if we rely on them excessively. Some actions I could take to improve this unsustainable habit is to bike or carpool with the others when going out, because bikes don’t require fossil fuels to generate and thus won’t produce greenhouse gases. They are also much smaller than the cars or buses, so that they take much less energy to be made.
Another habit that contributes the most to my carbon footprint is that I prefer buying nicely packaged goods which are often made by plastics, and use even more plastic bags to carry them. However, plastic requires a long time to decompose and produces toxic pollutants, especially the fossil-based plastics, creating long-lasting damages to the environment. Although they could be recycled, the cost is too high due to the complexity of the recycling process and the transportation fee, so many of them are remained in the soil and take up massive landfilling spaces. This is extremely unsustainable as they’re non-biodegradable, which means that the Earth can’t naturally absorb them to regenerate the energy for other usages. Some are even littered in the oceans, which creates serious pollution and affects the marine ecosystem when the animals eat them accidentally. Therefore, I should choose the unpackaged or eco-friendly packaged products, and always bring my own bag when I shop, so that I don’t need extra plastic bags to carry them. There’re also some canvas bag in the boarding house lobby which I can borrow. In this way, I can minimize my usage of plastics and be more sustainable.
If I could only change one habit, I think the most important thing is to do less shopping, because it can reduce my carbon footprint in both transportation and packaging. When I shop, I always take bus and MRT to the malls, because it’s quite far and time-consuming to walk there. Also, I can rarely find unpackaged products in stores since the stores usually package their products nicely to attract more customers, which makes me hard to avoid plastics when shopping. I used to shop just for fun, while I actually didn’t need to buy anything. However, after all the research, I find that this unintentional habit somehow could have powerful impact on the environment. Therefore, I think avoiding unnecessary shopping could be the most effective way for me to improve my ecological footprint. Small steps can eventually lead to great changes!