How many planets do we need, if everyone lives like you?

Before I started this blog, I honestly thought I was doing a good job in taking care of our planet: I separate plastic, all my electricity comes from renewable sources and living in The Netherlands means that I cycle almost daily.

I was convinced my carbon footprint would be low.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Calculate your personal carbon footprint in 5 minutes

Your ecological footprint as described by the World WildLife Fund is “the amount of the environment necessary to produce the goods and services necessary to support a particular lifestyle“.

If everyone would live like I did in 2017, we would need a shocking 3.5 Earths according to the Global Footprint Network. This is an international organization that aims for a sustainable future where all people have the opportunity to thrive within the means of one planet.

They created an awesome Footprint Calculator that takes into account the amount of meat and dairy you eat, the amount of locally produced food you buy, the energy efficiency of your house, your mode of transportation and many other factors.

You can calculate your own footprint here. It takes about five minutes of your time and it’s really insightful. And fun!

There are several other good tests to calculate your footprint, such at this one developed by the World Wildlife Fund. Although all tests obviously differ a bit in what they measure, the general image you’ll get is pretty much the same for all of them.

What is my carbon footprint?

Based on your carbon footprint, the Global Footprint Network calculates your Personal Overshoot Day: the date by which you have used as much from nature as Earth can renew in an entire year.

Back in 2017, mine was on April 13th, which ironically enough is my wedding day. “Hey honey, happy anniversary. By the way, from this day on I am taking more from the planet than what’s actually possible. Love you to the moon and back!”

The Earth Overshoot Day for Humanity in 2017 was August 2 (if you want to find out the Earth Overshoot Day for Humanity of this year, head over to this page).

This meant I was 3,5 months ahead of the global average.

I could not have been more wrong about my footprint behavior, thinking I was on the right track!

Yes, I could try to look at the “bright side” that I was still below average compared to for example people living in the United States (they needed a whopping 5.0 planets), but NO.

It doesn’t matter so much to me to be below the average of others, it matters that my personal average is still too high.

Way too high.

The big question: How can I move my Personal Overshoot Day?

From the first of January of 2018, I started taking steps everyday to reduce my ecological footprint. That lowered my footprint in 2018, 2019 and 2020 from 3.5 Earths to 2 Earths.

It made me happy to see that little changes in my lifestyle already can have a big impact! I saved 1.5 Earth, just by making some small adjustments. However, I am still not there yet. What’s going on?

What has the biggest impact on your ecological footprint?

The fun calculating your footprint is that you can play around with the numbers.

For example, cutting out the occasional dairy I consume would push my Personal Overshoot Day with 10 days.

Although that would help, it still doesn’t make me live within the boundaries of the planet. Why?

My biggest footprint challenge is… flying. My hubbie is from Argentina. His entire family and a lot of friends are on the other side of the ocean. It’s a 14-hour flight. That’s a loooot of carbon.

The impact of flying on your carbon footprint

Just how big of an impact flying actually has is shown by my carbon footprint of this year.

I didn’t take a plane in 2021. As a result, my Personal Overshoot Day took an impressive jump to November 26th, and we would need 1.1 Earths if everyone lived like me.

I reduced my footprint with almost 1 Earth, just by not taking that plane.

Flying really is a pain-in-the-butt for the environment. In her book “Hidden impact” (only available in Dutch), Babette Porcelijn calculates that you would need to plant 143 trees to compensate for the CO2 output of 5.200 kilometers traveled by plane.

To compensate one return flight Amsterdam – Buenos Aires I would need to plant 572 trees.

This is why sometimes a journey towards zero impact can be so difficult.

I can easily give up stuff, as I already proved to myself by not buying any clothes for more than a year.

I wouldn’t mind going 100% plant based either.

But to never see my Argentinean friends and family in law again (or my Dutch family and friends if we decide to live in Argentina)?

That would be too radical for me. It is just something I cannot do. I guess 99,99% of the people can understand that.

What to do with the part of your carbon footprint you cannot get down?

So, what’s left? There are several initiatives that offset your carbon footprint for a flight, such as planting bamboo. However, this still feels a bit as cheating and unsustainable.

I know a lower impact is not something that can be reached in one day. That would be like thinking you can lose 30 kilos overnight, or run a marathon from one day to another.

It takes time, practice, discipline.

If you are trying to lower your impact as well, don’t give up if you don’t see results after one day, or if you feel like you don’t do enough.

Take it one step at a time and you will see how things can really change!

I also know it’s something I cannot reach alone. We are all in this together: citizens, businesses and governments.

Did you already calculate your footprint? Take the test and let me know the results in the comments below, or drop me an email at nathalie@myhappyfootprint.com!

Originally published on April 13th, 2018. Last update: December 29th, 2021

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4 comments

Mireille 25/04/2018 - 14:58
Wow, 5,5 earths. I’m in shock!
Nati 29/04/2018 - 09:46
I had the same shock as you Mireille, when I first took the test. The test is the first step, now try to take little steps each day to improve and lower the amount of Earths you need. You can do it!
Laura Otto 14/06/2020 - 17:37
So it's obvious that Americans consume more, on average, than the people of less developed countries. But the claim that four Earths would be needed if everyone lived like Americans is still a striking one. It has been recurring on social media at least since 2012, when science writer Tim De Chant produced this infographic illustrating how much land would be required if seven billion people lived like the populations of nine selected countries from Bangladesh to the United Arab Emirates.
Karen Trefzger 16/06/2020 - 21:14
2.5 earths! Better than the average north American, but still a long way to go.
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