I Compared My Environmental Footprints From Micronesia And Australia
I calculated my environmental footprint to compare my impact from living in Micronesia to living in Australia.
Here’s the thing, I wanted to use three or four calculators to generate an average. It didn’t work out. After trying 10 or more calculators I found them too personalised to either the UK or the US. A lot of websites required an address, so I couldn’t even try them. After hours of trying to find calculators that were general enough to use, I ended up running with the Ecological Footprint Calculator and the WWF Footprint calculator that is specially tailored for UK residents, just so I’d have something to compare the first numbers against. And the results were…interesting.
My Australian answers were based off where I last lived, at home with my mum. We were two people in my four bedroom childhood home in regional Queensland. My Micronesia answers were based off the small apartment I share with Tim on the main island of Chuuk. I think these two living arrangements do reflect the difference in square feet per person that are usual between these two cultures.
Going into this, I presumed my Micronesian impact will be worse because the quality of companies I support is much lower. I use more plastic, buy products with palm oil, and heavily support Amazon and other companies I would never give my money to in Australia. In a lot of ways, the way I live here is less ethical.
BUT, I buy less in Chuuk. There is not much to buy. There are no almost no restaurant or takeout options, and there’s very little food for us in the supermarkets. Additionally, food costs 40% more than Australia so our money doesn’t spread as far. We spend $150 AUD on groceries per week which typically equals two or three shopping bags of food, versus the eight shopping bags it would fill back in Australia. We don’t eat snacks and we can’t buy much on a whim. My overall consumption of everything from fuel to electricity to food is down. I don’t think any calculators are accurate enough to determine these sorts of differences.
As a note: I am vegan. This automatically puts my impact below the average of a country like Australia, the UK or America as the most significant personal choice any individual makes. But I do drive and fly a lot (my hometown doesn’t have public transport) and that is what separates me from those in low income countries.
Ecological Footprint Calculator
This calculator is endorsed by and linked on the WWF Australia website. I used it for the first time on Overshoot Day, because it works by comparing your personal overshoot day to the global average. Global Footprint Network describes the ecological footprint as the only metric that compares resource demand to what the Earth can renew, and it lets you explore their data (but of course, Micronesia isn’t included). The global Overshoot Day your consumption is compared to is July 29th.
Personal Overshoot Day: October 15th
Earths we’d need to sustain my consumption: 1.3
Annual carbon output: 3.6 tonnes
Carbon as a % of my total ecological footprint: 58%
Global hectares needed to sustain my lifestyle: 2.2
Even though I drive a lot in Micronesia, I don’t drive very far at all. It’s 1500m to and from work, and we hardly drive on weekends. The furthest place we could go on the island is a 16km round trip. This, plus our small two-room apartment, keeps my ecological footprint low. My highest contributor was “goods” at 0.6 global hectares.
Personal Overshoot Day: May 17th
Earths we’d need to sustain my consumption: 2.7
Annual carbon output: 8 tonnes
Carbon as a % of my total ecological footprint: 60%
Global hectares needed to sustain my lifestyle: 4.6
This calculates my Australian footprint as more than double my Micronesia footprint. The largest contributors were a tie between mobility (transport) and goods at 1.2 global hectares each. This is not a good result. When living in Gladstone we have to drive much further distances because our city of 30,000 people is twice the population of Weno. This would make a big difference to my overall footprint and make it so embarrassingly high.
WWF Footprint Calculator
This calculator is completely tailored to the UK. But I had a fair go at using it to help with approximating the difference in my footprint between Micronesia and Australia. In the flight section, I selected domestic flights within the UK/Ireland as a comparison to flying to Pohnpei and Guam to try and make it work for me. This calculator says that the 2020 target for our annual carbon output is 10.5 tonnes.
Annual carbon output: 10.5 tonnes (dead on target)
Travel 33%, stuff 26%, home 22%, food 19%
My biggest issue is my flying. Living on an island, there is no possibility of land transport. My food waste is also higher than home due to the fact everything is pretty rancid by the time we get it, and nothing stays fresh in this climate. That, and 99% of food and goods must be imported.
Annual carbon output: 10.6 tonnes (pretty close!)
Home 35%, stuff 31%, food 20%, travel 14%
This puts me below the UK average but far greater than the global average. The reason the home would be the highest is due to the fact my mum and I were living as just two people in a four bedroom home, but since the calculator is from the UK they also presume there is heating involved which is inaccurate so I think it may be lower once you factor in our conscious efforts to live more sustainably.
The almost identical results for the WWF UK Footprint Calculator suggest to me that it’s not a very sensitive calculator. I’m vegan in both countries and drive a similar sized car in both countries (CRV and RAV4), so I think their estimates are just about the same despite the enormous difference in my lifestyle and how I source food and products. In the eyes of the calculator, cutting down on driving in Micronesia was balanced out by living in a smaller place and they thought that’s just about the same thing.
Given how dramatically different its results were to the Ecological Footprint Calculator, I worry it might be vain to assume the smaller footprint is the correct one. (It’s a 70% reduction, after all.) But it does seem that the Ecological Footprint Calculator is more accurate since I could personalise my answers more with that calculator and it has a better reputation, with access to its data on the Global Footprint Network website.
The calculation that my consumption is way beyond what the Earth can regenerate when living the Australian lifestyle seems correct with past attempts at these calculations. Even eco-friendly, vegan Australians unfairly contribute too much to the global climate crisis because we fuel our homes and our vehicles with non-renewables and spend more in every area of life. Using diesel generators to power my home and a petrol car to move around town in Micronesia doesn’t seem to override the fact that I consume less of everything.
I was left a bit dissatisfied by this experiment because I couldn’t crosscheck the results as thoroughly as I’d like to, to prove credibility. And because they can’t really take into account the ingredients used in anything you buy, or whether or not you shop secondhand.
But I’m at least assured that I know the impact certain activities and ways of living have on the planet. If my Australian lifestyle emits 8 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year and we need our global emissions to look more like my Micronesian lifestyle, I am going to have to make drastic changes to the way I live and consume, and consider paying to offset the emissions I can’t reduce.
Have you used the Ecological Footprint Calculator? Let me know your annual emissions! Have you ever offset your entire carbon footprint? How much did it cost you?
Do you know any carbon footprint calculators that would allow me to compare two different countries? Or do you have any questions about things I left out? Let me know your feedback and I can update this post in the future!