How Many Earths Would It Take To Sustain Your Lifestyle?

“Consumer Consequences” is an online “game” where you enter data about your living, work, travel, energy, and eating patterns, then see how many earths would be needed to sustain your lifestyle if every single person on the planet did the same thing. It’s a relatively fun way to graphically tally up your environmental footprint, and helps you highlight where you use the most resources (and, ideally, where you can therefore cut costs).

con_consumerconsequences02.jpg What we found most interesting was the comparison section at the end, where you can see how your score stacks up against other people according to a wide variety of criteria, including gender, age, location, income, political affiliation, and education.

We scored a 3.3, mainly because of the amount of take-out food we order every month. Funny, we’ve been testing Mint lately and it’s pointed out the same wasteful behavior. Might be time to change habits?

Consumer Consequences game [PublicRadio.org via Consumerism Commentary]

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  1. TexasScout says:

    What a bunch of Hippie Crap….

    So sue me for living in the most prosperous nation in the world. I live 50 miles away from where I work, I work as a Salesman for a Oil and Gas related company. I drive 50,000 miles a year and work hard for what I have. I don’t feel the least bit embarrassed about it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why is it hippie crap? Is it factually incorrect?

  3. harleymcc says:

    Wow drinking 25 beer a week, really increases my footprint.

    Could be gassy emissions?

  4. jaredgood1 says:

    I was ok with it right up until it told my my 8 cups of coffee a day were bad.

  5. Vexorg says:

    Less than Al Gore, I would assume…

  6. legerdemain says:

    The ~$35/mo average electric bill in Louisiana has to be absolute bunk. I have the lowest bills of anyone I know at about $50/mo.

    I scored a 3.9, and I drive less than 200mi a month and commute by bicycle often. I wonder if I got dinged for never riding public transportation; I’d choose the bicycle over the bus any day.

  7. woertink says:

    Improvements in efficiency means that fewer “earths” are required to sustain a given level of prosperity. So given today’s technology it may take many “earths” to give everyone our current prosperity. But we will have tomorrow’s technology tomorrow and thus could make our standard everyone’s standard. Just as 1930s standard of living might require multiple “earths” using 1930s technology to give everyone the same level of comfort, but with today’s tech we can give everyone 1930s levels under one earth cost.

  8. morydd says:

    Well, that’s utter crap. Apparently all meat has exactly the same environmental impact. That’s only the most obvious of the setup. It doesn’t ask how much of my power comes from nuclear sources, which has a major impact on the environmental footprint. Oh well, this is from the same kinds of minds that consider Global Warming (oh, wait, we’re supposed to call it Global Climate Change now) to be a proven scientific fact as opposed to a theory based on a small sample of questionable data.

  9. chili_dog says:

    Woooo Hoooo, 11x of All American Consumerism. Take that you greenies.

  10. DaWezl says:

    Yeah, I had a lot of problems with the choices. For example, we heat with wood much of the winter, but that wasn’t an option. Also, I tried the test a second time, using what my answers would have been back when I lived in NYC and didn’t even own a car. It still dinged me a whole ‘earth’ b/c it didn’t allow me to specify that I didn’t have a car to drive.

  11. thepounder says:

    Well, I’m going to have to agree on the “Hippie Crap” insinuation… But I do have a reason for saying such.
    During the game you are asked many questions that have drop-down list answers or choose-a-range answer bubbles that are far (FAR!) too vague to actually feed them enough real info to come up with some sort of valid computation about how I truly impact the environment…
    Yet, at the very end of the game they give me this synopsis, all from the info I just fed them… but it struck me I didn’t feed remotely enough info for them to tell me I’d use 5.2 Earths. So I followed the little “Behind The Numbers” linky, but I’ll not paste it here because it’ll be too big. Anyhow, they didn’t actually explain how things are calculated to come up with my grand total of 5.2 Earths… so I believe it’s hooey, at least to some extent.

    My usage is broken down into six tidy categories at the end, only one of which I actually agree with. I do, after all, know what the hell I do much better than a silly online “game” does.
    I’d certainly agree I use more fuel than other folks, but I use my truck for what trucks are designed to do; haul stuff. Mostly lumber. So it’s either I go pick up my lumber from McCoy’s or I have it delivered to me by a huge flatbed diesel. Guess which vehicle is spewing more crap into the atmosphere.

    I’m sorry to Mother Earth that I refuse to live in a tiny apartment so I take up less room and have a “smaller footprint”. I live in Texas, out in the country. I love my fresh air and love having zero neighbors.
    And am I just a sicko that hearing the phrase “smaller footprint” in eco-terms makes me want to vomit? I’m just tired of hearing it I suppose.
    Don’t get me wrong though; I don’t want to kill off the planet any more than the next guy… but when I want to learn how to live “more green” I’ll pop on the TV and tune in Living With Ed, rather than having it shoved in my face like I’m some eco-terrorist for driving a pickup and commuting alone each day.

    Wow, my apologies for the rant.

  12. Three Word Chant says:

    Tragedy of the commons? [en.wikipedia.org]

    I’m no hippie – I live in NY and think people should be able to enjoy life and do what they want to do. Texascout works for an oil company and ThePounder hauls lumber..nothing wrong with either of those two things. I don’t think we should all live in space pods in a utopian vegan universe.

    All that being said, if everyone just “exercised their right to do what they want to do,” it is conceivable that at some point this will pose a problem. Irrespective of your stance on climate change, politics, or anything else, there are obviously a finite amount of resources, and a finite capacity for the earth to handle more of uss (I don’t profess to know those limits, and I think people who do are full of $hite.

    However, at some point(maybe 300 years from now) it is conceivable that if everyone just does what everyone wants to do, we could pose real threats to not even the world (for those that don’t care) but our own well being. China is “just” exercising its right to grow as a nation, just as America did. However, if half a billion Chinese just get their two cars and can have as many children as they want (and who could argue with this, morally or practically) then the future doesn’t necessarily bode well for all of us.

    I don’t profess to have an answer, just think this is more complex a practical and moral issue than “I’m not a hippie, I drive an SUV and I’m not using creepy light bulbs or eating plants the rest of my life woo hoo!”

  13. BobbyMike says:

    Interesting “game”, but I believe it’s rigged to make you think (guiltily) about your choices. Whoever put it together couldn’t bother putting a decent set of choices for most of the menus. I have to think that the fact that we (personally) grow about half of our own vegetables is better for the environment then buying the equivalent amount from even a local farm. But no choice.
    Also how about buying a used vehicle that gets decent gas mileage versus a newly manufactured vehicle. No choice.
    Or even the energy savings that arise from working from your home, versus commuting. Again no choice.

  14. liquisoft says:

    Nice “game,” but the reality is everybody doesn’t live exactly the same way I do. I live as greenly as circumstances permit, and I mean that honestly. It seems like the game is designed to cause everybody to use at least 2 earths, as things like shopping are just a part of western society. Should I stop buying things, and by ceasing to consume goods will the environment be better?

    I guess the “ideal” for this game is for all human beings to eat nothing but vegetables, not drive at all, not own a home or produce garbage, not utilize electricity, not drink alcohol, and have no money with which to buy things. Then the whole world would be peachy-keen!

  15. thepounder says:

    @Ditch1852: Now that was a good post.

    Certainly, we all can’t continue to grow and grow as nations without something bad eventually happening to the planet. I just don’t think that the current fashion of “guilting” people into going “green” is a good was to go about it.

    I really do watch Living With Ed… great show overall and Ed Begley Jr. is a great example of how many many things can be done “more green”… of course, I’ll not be powering my toaster with a bicycle, but I recycle, burn wood in the winter, fix many things instead of just tossing them out and buying new.

  16. lockdog says:

    1.5 earths baby! And that was me, not my wife, who walks to the grocery store and bikes to work. But before you all get too upset, remember, its just a game. I’d love to see someone develop one of these that was significantly more accurate, or could look at a household as a whole, not just one person, but who is going to sit down with utility bills, grocery receipts etc for hours to see how they score?

  17. thepounder says:

    Hmm… I was just going thru the game again, and found that when I poked in that I had a car that got 50MPG, I only drove it 100 miles per month, always carried a passenger, always rode a bike when I could do so instead of driving… It still upped my number of Earths by .1

    As has been mentioned already, these folks appear to only be happy with an answer of never using a car, and maybe riding a bicycle everywhere with a friend or two sitting on the handlebars.

    Just thought I’d mention that oddity I encountered. fun stuff.

  18. thepounder says:

    Darn… too bad it only goes up to “99+” Earths… I wanted to see how fat I could live.

  19. Techguy1138 says:

    I happen to think these things are crap. I scored 3.2 earth.

    I don’t own a car.
    I don’t buy new stuff all the time.
    I don’t buy electronic toys often, but I get 1 toy a year anyway.
    I walk to work.
    I fly a max of 10 hour a YEAR.

    I don’t eat much meat.

    Organic food is HARDER on the environment, but healthier.

    I also don’t eat out much.

    I conserve energy, bulbs and water and whatnot.

    I scored a 3.2. HOLY CRAP. I’d need to light my home with candles and give up refrigeration to do any better.

    What they need to do is come up with examples of how it is even possible in their system to live in 1 or less earths.

  20. Syrenia says:

    4.2 for someone who:
    * Takes light rail to work 4x per week and works at home the fifth day.
    * Drives a car with 28 MPG average about 200 miles per month.
    * Has an average electric bill of $30, with no gas or oil.

    Obviously it was my consumer habits, including eating out a lot. But I think it was the first-class plane tickets that really did it. The game was really snippy about that. Something like “if everyone flew first class there’d have to be more airplanes.” (Duh) I just really hate everything to do with air travel these days. Next trip is by train.

    I agree that they need to have shown us how you live at 1.0. I don’t think it’s possible, though. I live in a high-density city apartment, which their commentary said was the most efficient, and I was at 1.1 right off the bat.

  21. Adam291 says:

    I live in NYC and don’t have a car. I walk most places, and take the subway or bus if it’s beyond 40 blocks. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any “no car” option, which I think is a set up. If you’re a big environmentalist, you’d know and advocate that people in cities don’t need cars, especially with public transportation. I’ve seen a bunch of these “test your impact on the earth things” and NONE of them have a “no car” option.

    The biggest thing we could do as a country is get off dirty coal and oil. Nuclear power is most promising and clean coal tech is the best of carbon with little, if any, emissions.

  22. wakela says:

    Blast! If only there was some way to make people buy less of resource as the resource becomes more scarce…

  23. kimsama says:

    WTF? I got 1.6 Earths, and I compost, walk to/from work 9 times out of 10 (take the bus the other 1 time), have a tiny apartment (with attendant tiny utilities), eat local, and drive maybe 20 miles a month. There’s no way to input some environmentally sound practices (like the composting). Seriously, they should just say at the outset, “there is no way to get 1 Earth because you’re American.”

    How about a game that shows how much cleaner the environment would be if we abandoned oil and coal and used nuclear? I’d be all for that.

  24. kimsama says:

    @Adam291: Didn’t read you comment before I posted, but amen to that!

  25. synergy says:

    Well I was at 1.2 earths until I entered my food. I can’t afford organic food and I keep forgetting to go to the farmer’s market on the spotty hours they run, so that jacked me up to 2 earths.

    I walk a lot, I ride the bus to and from work which is only ~15mi/24km roundtrip, only ever have one light on in the apt which is just large enough for 2 people, and we never shop unless something can’t be repaired, bought second-hand, or done without.

    We never fly anywhere. Maybe once every other year for a mandatory in-law visit, if that. We have a car, but only use it for the once-a-month grocery shopping and about once every few months for short roadtrips.

    Now if I can just remember to get my butt to the farmers market on Saturday morning I’ll cut back on those 2 earths…

  26. kellyhelene says:

    I could drop my footprint down to a 2, but it would involve a slow, painful death by hypothermia come January.
    (and that’s not owning a car, almost never flying, living in an apartment in an urban area, and almost never going out to eat.)

  27. Blackneto says:

    mad3 it up to 3.8 earths
    Family of 6 in a 2600sq/ft house in a suburb enviroment – got chided for wasting space on the quiz
    2 vehichles Mini Van for when we all go together and my 94 Jaguar that i drive to work and to clients but only about 300 miles a month. – no option for 2 vehicles so i went with the worse gas hog, the jag.
    No public transportation worth speaking of.

    Utilities. average 280 a month, but i run a business from my home and we have loads of laundry and 2 freezers and a fridge to store the food we buy in bulk and on sale. Farmers markets are nice as someone said, when you can figure out when they are open.

    Recycling – our biggest sin, we only do aluminum cans when we get a bag full and we usually donate that to the scouts or whomever wants them. we Don’t use much glass. and plastic and paper take more energy to recycle than it’s worth.

    Shopping. We buy what we need. We both come from big families and clothes are handed down till they are just too dingy to use anymore.

    I guess we aren’t the average city dwelling family but I think the test is skewed toward someones idea of a perfect society.

  28. Mike626 says:

    I answered truthfully the first round (5.3 Earths) and then answered with the ‘greenest’ answer available. It came out to 1.3 Earths. And the world it describes in not one I would want to live in. 4 people to a 1200 sq ft home, no car, no jet travel…

    Clearly this game is either inaccurate, or we should kill off about 80% of the global population. Either way, I like having my 1200 sq ft of paradise to myself.

  29. kostia says:

    I got an 8.1, yes, an eight-point-one.

    Partially because the game doesn’t understand that I work from home. I hardly ever commute, therefore I hardly ever use public transportation, therefore I’m evil?

    Partially because my electric bill is $100 more than the bullshit “average” it quoted. If there are people in Virginia who spend $34 a month on electricity, I’d like to meet them (and, I guess, get a tour of their personal windmills and backyard solar farms).

    Partially because I don’t recycle: I’d have to drive a mile or two to get to the nearest dropoff point, and my town has no curbside pickup.

  30. asherchang says:

    @TexasScout: Meanwhile, your car exhausts go
    up in the atmosphere and rapidly accelerate dessertification in the
    Sahara and make hard times harder for the farmers who can barely eke
    out a living for themselves. The droughts that they cause also spur on
    ethnic and tribal tensions in Darfur over scarcity of resources, and
    give the Janjaweed plenty of motivation to take Sudanese government
    support to go ahead and rape and kill and loot and plunder the
    Darfurians who are still suffering to this day.

    And that’s just your car. I could go on and on about your meat
    consumption, the bottled water you drink, the trees you kill (through
    paper usage AND meat consumption, due to deforestation by ranchers),
    and how they hurt the environment AND MOST IMPORTANTLY other people.

  31. asherchang says:

    @Syrenia: You have to understand that most
    of the world does not use nearly as much electricity or gas or potable
    water as we do. Of course, China and India have alot of citizens who
    can suddenly afford these things, and so the price of gas is
    skyrocketing and the overcrowded cities of China are now not only
    overcrowded, but choked in smog and pollution. The simple fact is that
    we’re negatively impacting the world in an amount very, very, very,
    very disproportionate to our numbers.

  32. The question that always makes me moderately nuts on these quizzes is the one about “how many people in your household.” Well, just the two of us, jerk, because we’re a young couple intending to have children! Apparently to live an adequately sustainable lifestyle we need to move constantly so we’ve only got 600 sq. feet per person or whatever it is and waste all that energy moving all the time.

    Which maybe is just a frustration with a larger issue about these quizzes — it wants to know about your lifestyle THIS INSTANT. Well, the gas mileage on your car might not be spectacular, but it’s typically worse for the environment to get rid of a car before you’ve had it 10 years than it is to drive your low gas mileage sedan until you hit that mark. Similarly, there are lots of things you can do in your home to make it greener — but that are terribly wasteful if you do them THIS INSTANT rather than waiting out the natural replacement life of whatever it is you’re making greener.

    Sustainability is a process, not a moment.

  33. MameDennis says:

    @Adam291:
    If you put in zero for the car mileage, that seems to work.

    That said, I call BS, too… for one thing, it says my transportation has zero impact. Um, no. The bus is a good choice and all, but it *does* emit exhaust fumes.

  34. TexasScout says:

    @asherchang: You need an enima to get rid of all that hippie crap….

    I don’t dring bottled water, I have a water well. My car runs down the road so you can have all the plastic gee gaws that you love so much. Well let’s think about that. 99% of plasic is made from Crude Oil Stock. That’s right, let’s imagine you life without plastic. No plastic to keep your food fresh, no plastic to keep you heathy, for medical equipment. No insulation for your house, no counter tops, no tires for your friggin’ bycycle!

    As the bumper sticker says; “Oil feeds my family and pays my taxes”

    If it were not for my driving, your world would look more like a third world country.

  35. jeff303 says:

    @morydd: Good point. Pastured livestock require zero energy input (other than solar) and can be raised on land otherwise unsuitable for farming. Feedlots (the only valid argument that eating meat is bad for the environment) just happen to be cheaper.

  36. bbbici says:

    These types of analyses about earth’s capacity for humans assume that all currently alive species get to survive with minimal damage to their habitats. However, this denies evolution and Darwinism. Plenty of species have gone extinct since life began– too bad for them that they couldn’t adapt quickly enough to new predators or environmental hazards.

    The earth can ‘carry’ many more billions of humans. Sure, we may be eating pond scum and wearing hazmat suits, but life goes on.

    There will be economic and biological corrections to our unsustainable lifestyle.

  37. rmz says:

    @asherchang: Dessertification? Mmmm, tasty.

  38. TPIRman says:

    A lot (most?) of the people commenting in this thread have missed the point rather spectacularly. Many seem eager to come on and post how the game didn’t take into account their eco creds — “I have a car that runs on vegetable oil and I only drive it once a year to check on my wood-pellet-burning furnace and solar panels! There was no option for that!” Good for you, here’s your gold star.

    The game is a thought exercise meant to approximate the relative effects that various aspects of lifestyle have on your environment. Your individual score is kind of interesting but not terribly relevant. Not only does the “how many earths would it take?” number have no practical application, but it is so abstract that it obviously must be a ballpark figure (and a huge ballpark at that). Fixating on your personal number is pointless.

    Put another way: it’s not about YOU. Don’t make it about your irrational guilt or how this little game isn’t accurately documenting your individual impact. The idea is to look at the effects of our society’s lifestyle on a broad scale — hence the “if everybody lived this way…” premise. Consider the long-term impact and, maybe, solutions. The reason it’s virtually impossible to get a low score is not that you’re a bad person; it’s because the solutions just aren’t there right now. You can either think about ways to change that, or you can navel-gaze and whine about the meaningless score you got on a Flash game.

  39. Woofer00 says:

    As far as I can tell, the mere fact of commuting, regardless of the means, and buying anything at all rather than growing your own food, milking your own cows (oh wait, cows create more methane/air pollution than cars), weaving your own clothes, and living Amish w/minimal power would still lead to a greater than 1 earth impact. The mere fact of being alive seems to require that we build a second planet and even out the solar system to an even nine again just to sustain ourselves.

  40. vladthepaler says:

    This thing doesn’t seem to be at all accurate. When I told it that I never travel anywhere by car, that doesn’t lower the number of earths I take up at all. Seems to me that if everyone used public transport exclusively (and walked, rode bikes, etc) that should decrease our impact on the earth, all other things being equal.

  41. The state average for electricty is definitely BS. Do people who don’t have electricity get included in the average?

    If I don’t buy any Aluminum should it matter that I don’t recycle any?

    @MameDennis: You still have to put in a ridiculously high number for the MPG in order for it not to increase your footprint. This is ridiculous: if I NEVER drive how does the MPG even matter?

    I honestly have no idea how much of the food I buy is local.

    The diet percentage thing doesn’t work because it doesn’t account for junk food. What catagory does a Cheeto fall under?

    “When given the chance, do you buy green-certified products?” I’ve never seen a green-certified product. Does that make the answer always or never?

    2.7 Earths.

  42. Smackdown says:

    So do I win with an 8.5?

    Fine, fine, I’ll start recycling. But if you think I am riding the bus, you are crazy, hippie game.

  43. Luckie says:

    I think a big factor that seems to be missing from the game is procreation. As a single person, I know that I consume a lot less than a parent. Babies tend to make us consume more. Disposable diapers, itty bitty packages of food, more likelihood of avoiding public transportation if you’ve got a stroller to haul, after a long day of mothering you may not feel like cooking as often or seeking out the local farmer’s market, etc. If we, as humans, just cut down on our population growth, there would be more than 4.5 acres for each of us, and we could all be happier.

    Incidentally, I got 3.9. I never recycle, and there is no public transportation outside the downtown area where I live.