We often believe that the only way to change the world is if everyone starts to behave differently, and we aren’t willing to change until everyone else changes first. We believe that even if we would change that it wouldn’t make a difference. I mean, unless we are famous, influential, or have money there is no way we can make a difference, right? Nothing can be further from the truth. Individual contribution plays a major role in a grand picture even if no one notices.
For example, stopping to eat meat we can have a notable impact on our health, environment, improving access to water, helping so solve world hunger, save rain forests, and decrease pollution. We can do even more.
It is often hard to see the extent of our impact on the world when we consider it on a day-to-day basis. However, when we look at a person’s life overall, human footprint accumulates. For example, it is estimated that for these of us who live in the US, during a lifetime we consume on average 15 Cows, 12 Sheep, 24 Hogs, 46 Pigs, 49 Turkeys, 37 Ducks, 12 Geese, and 1.423 Chickens. We further eat 12.000 apples, 5.000 bananas, 13.000 oranges, 260 pineapples, 20.000 eggs, 20.000 potatoes, 500 breads, 500 hotdog rolls, 12.000 hamburger buns, and 15.000 candy bars, which together with other artificial sources of sugar adds up to 10,000 pounds sugar consumed. We drink 75.000 liters of water, 1.600 gallons of milk, 13.200 beers, 950 wine bottles, 45.000 cans of soda, and 60.000 cups of coffee. But we don’t consume all the food we buy. It is reported that we throw away up to 20-30% of all food items, because we buy too much of it and then don’t consume it on time. For a family of four could mean anywhere between $1,400 and $2,300 food wasted per year. This, together with all food lost due to poor harvesting, storage, and transportation practices adds up 50% waste of all food produced. So much for solving the world’s hunger.
Furthermore, on average we use 160 toothbrush, 400 toothpaste, 650 bars of soap, 200 shampoo bottles, 270 deodorants, 35 hairstyle gels, 219 bottles of mouthwash, 80 packs of floss and 1.095 packs of chewing gum, 400 skin care products, 25 nail polishers, 40 perfumes, and 50 lipstick tubes. We take 28.433 showers, using in process 700.000 gallons of water. We also own 7 washing machines, 5 refrigerators, 8 microwaves, 7 air conditioners, 10 TV, 15 computers, 10 homes, and 12 cars, in which we drive 625.000 miles (around 25 times the world), and which consume 31.500 gallons of gasoline. We watch up to 4 hours of TV per day, which adds up to an astonishing 12,5 years in front of TV. We read 415 books (6 books per year) and 5.000 newspapers. We spend 9.000 dollars of new home decoration and 53.000 dollars on cloth. We produce 15 tons of trash, 15 tons of plastic, 565.000 gallons of sewage, and 500 tons of CO2 emission. Plastic, specifically, presents some additional problems, since it takes several lifetimes to biodegrade. This, in turn, means that all the plastic trash that was ever created still exists in some form or another on our planet today, and we are still producing more and more of it. This is why, perhaps, so much of it ends up floating in our rivers and seas, causing environmental problems that we hear on TV.
Giving these huge individual consumption numbers, we can see that perhaps we over consume. Indeed, compared to the rest of the world, these of us living in the US produce almost 4 times more CO2. We do so by relying more on technological facilitators like hair dryers than anyone else in the world. Indeed, on average hairdryer burns through 0,75 tone of coal during our lifetime, just drying our hair.
The solution is, therefore, to be more mindful of our activity. By changing simple things in our day-to-day activities can contribute to creating a better world for everyone. We can do so by, for example, decreasing the temperature in house by 2 degrees in winter and increasing it by 2 degrees in summer, which will save 2.000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. We could replace less efficient light bulbs with more efficient one that can prevent 0,5 ton of carbon dioxide emission over the bulb lifetime. We could prevent another 0,5 ton of carbon emissions by unplugging appliances when we aren’t using them. They are still consuming energy even when they are connected to the grid.
And while all these numbers are only very rough and approximate estimates, which vary dramatically when we consider our individual situations and lifestyles, we can certainly change the world if we alone start consuming in a more mindful way, not even to mention if we join worldwide movement for sustainable consumption.
- Documentary – Cowspiracy (2014)
- US Department of Agriculture (2008). “Human Footprint.” Documentary featured on National Geographic Channel.
- Statistic adopted from “Deutscher Durchschnittsverzehr im Laufe eines Lebens.” Translated from German.