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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Part V: Putting It All Together In The Footprint View

As I explored the data fueling Footprint USA, an image began to from in my mind of our society as a giant flow of atoms from mines, wells, forests and farms.  A flow through a process of  refining, combining, trimming and distributing, with our households as the ultimate engines drawing all this matter through.  And, when we're done, every single atom that comes in has to go back out - to our atmosphere, waterways, landfills, or storage lockers.

I wanted to a way to see this in a concise overview, where I could better understand how my personal consumption influenced that much larger flow.  How big is that flow, compared to the part I use?  How does the flow in my city, county, or state compare to other places?  What is the resulting quality of life?  Thus was born the Footprint view.  Here it is for New York State:

On the left are the inputs, on the right the outputs - these balance out, though for simplicity's sake not everything is shown on both sides.  In the center is the portion of this flow we actually use to sustain ourselves and our households.  Everything else is overhead.

About half the total energy production is used directly by us, with two-thirds of that half going to transportation. (You can see this in the app by tapping on a pie chart, which makes it colorful and displays a legend).  Only one quarter of the crops produced are actually eaten by us.  (In the app, you can explore where the rest goes).  In our households we personally use only one tenth of the water  that we consume as a society.  And, each and every day, 22.8 ton-miles of stuff is moved on our behalf (this does not include our cars, busses, trains and planes, which move each resident of the Empire State, on average, 26.4 miles every day).

There are many ways to think of quality of life - I selected a few items for data was available:  Health, education, cime, and natural hazards.  There are a number of other factors which impact our quality of life by inspiring us - art, nature, mastery of our vocations and avocations - but for these I had no consistent data, and they are much more subjective.

Finally, everything is combined into a Footprint Score.  For New York state, despite all the inefficiencies listed above, the score is 150.  That is 50% higher than the national average (higher is better), which is, by definition in Footprint USA, 100.

In the app you can find out exactly how the Footprint Score is calculated.  You can find the score for where you live.  And, with the What-If? simulator, you can explore what you can personally do, and what we can do as a society, to change the Footprint Score.  I'll write about that in an upcoming post.

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