Archived posts 2013/15

Crunching the numbers

With the ecological footprints finally calculated (thanks for your patience), it’s become clear just how tough the competition is. Ames Street of Pāekakariki and Waimeha Lagoon of Waikanae Beach both have an average neighbourhood footprint of 1.66 Earths, while Reikorangi of Waikanae is starting out on 2.57 Earths. The New Zealand average is 2.12 Earths.

Using a quiz developed by the New Zealand Footprint Project, a collaboration between Otago Polytechnic and Victoria University of Wellington, participants answered a series of questions about key aspects of their lifestyle: food and drink, travel, consumer goods, pets, holidays, energy, and housing. The calculator then expressed each category in global hectares (gha).

A gha is a unit of the Earth’s ability to produce resources or absorb pollution. A person’s individual footprint in gha can be converted to Earths. That is, the number of planet Earths we would need if the entire world’s seven billion people lived in the same way as the person measuring his/her footprint.

The global average ecological footprint 1.6 Earths (2.7 gha), meaning humans are undermining the ability of the planet to support us. A ‘fair Earth share’ is, you guessed it, one Earth (1.7 gHa) – the number of planet Earths we actually have!

While individual footprints differ, a recent talk in Kāpiti by Professor Brenda Vale, a Greenest Neighbourhood judge and part of the New Zealand Footprint Project, highlighted some general themes between urban New Zealand lifestyles:

  • Food was found to be the predominant driver of a household’s footprint. Use of commercial land for growing, on‐farm inputs and food processing made up the largest portion of the food footprint. Reducing consumption of dairy products and meat decrease a food footprint markedly.
  • Holidays and pets were also large contributors to an individual’s footprint. The impact of holidays relates to the distance we travel, particularly by plane.
  • Growing house sizes have increased our average housing footprint, despite homes possessing more ‘eco-friendly’ features.
  • Due to the high amount of renewable energy that goes into producing New Zealand’s electricity, the impact of household energy was proportionally much less than found in similar footprint case studies in other countries.
  • Consumer goods also have a large impact and it is steadily increasing. Between 1960 and 2006, production and use of consumer goods per person almost tripled.

Discussing ways in which we can address our impact, Professor Vale proposed a ‘ration card’ approach. This method avoids prescribing what we should and shouldn’t do, but asks us to make lifestyle choices in recognition of the fact that we can’t do everything if we hope to exist within the bounds of the Earth’s ability to support us and future generations.

As previous Greenest Streets found, many of these choices are not about lowering our standard of living, but discovering a richer life on our doorsteps as we come together to share tools, skills and resources, support each other, become more resilient and build community.

Participating Neighbourhoods have until March 2014 to reduce their average footprint, when they will be remeasured and compared for smallest final average footprint; greatest proportional reduction; and how the groups have come together as a community.

2 thoughts on “Crunching the numbers

  1. This analysis is based purely on a residential scenario and that respect is something of a “Greenwash” for the rural community owing to the fact that its originators are largely ignorant of the workings of the rural sector in our community and our region. Quite a number of people in the rural sector work from their land, and as such, their home is also their workplace. Because of this, their use of power and other resources are statistically higher, since they work from their homes / farms. People who own extensive areas of land also often tend to need vehicles that are small trucks ( 4WD’s ), bigger and more buildings associated with farming and forestry, and sometimes farm dogs. We have groups of rural residents involved in voluntary pest management programs over large areas, for which they are not given any credit. It is not their fault for the pests being there, that is a nationwide historical problem. Probably the biggest flaw in the allocation of credits is that there are no negative carbon offsets for the rural community, who have extensive areas of trees sequestering carbon. For some people in our rural community who own tens or hundreds of acres of trees, whether they be native, commercial or exotic arboretal varieties, or some combination of these, this carbon offset is huge. This negative carbon offset has not been even considered in the model used by the analysts. If those negative carbon offset was taken into account, this would change things quite dramatically. Besides that, the forests help in erosion control and also benefits to the entire region for whom the rural areas are the primary water catchment zone. This would also effectively be a credit ( or negative debit ) offset in the scheme of things. Without the negative carbon and (positive) credit offsets being in place, the rural community is perceived as not being particularly “green”, which is quite contrary to the real situation. I would hope that if and when this competition comes to the fore again, that the questionnaires take these factors into account. I think that the council and the wider community at least owes that to the rural sector. The only rural group affected by that in this competition is the Reikorangi group, where there is extensive forestry of all kinds in their valley.

  2. Interesting numbers but I feel very confident all will reduce through this process. Good luck or more to the point good management with this

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