May 20, 2011 by sgoobie
How we think about Nature is important. These ways of thinking make up our Ecological Thoughtprint. But how would a person go about figuring out what her or his “thoughtprint” consists of? How would she “measure” it?
First of all, we need to be clear about the difference between a footprint and a thoughtprint.
In the case of a carbon footprint, this is the quantity of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) emitted into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and other industrial or agricultural processes. You take a transatlantic flight — this comes with a certain carbon “pricetag” from all of the carbon emitted by the airplane and from the extraction and processing of fuel. The amount of carbon can be estimated in the form of a measurement of tonnes of carbon emissions.
In the case of an ecological footprint, this is the amount of area on the Earth’s surface which is needed to provide all the ecological processes (access to “resources”, storage of waste, etc.) to support a given population and level of human activity. For example, a family in Canada requires a certain amount of forested land to provide the wood for their house, ocean to provide the fish on their dinner plates, and glacial snowcap to provide drinking water. The area of the Earth’s surface needed for human activities can be calculated in the form of a measurement of “global hectares” of land.
These approaches are excellent for giving us an understanding of the physical imbalance in many places around the world, as well as the global imbalance itself. From carbon footprinting, we can discover that production of a single hamburger consumed in the United States — from raising of cattle to transportation of food — sends about 3 kilograms of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. From ecological footprints, we discover that an average person in Canada currently requires about 7 global hectares to live, while the average biocapacity of the entire world is only about 2 global hectares available per person. As the well-known line goes, if everyone lived like a Canadian/American/Brit/etc., we would need more than a single planet to sustain the human population. In this way, footprints are wonderful ways of accounting for how close we are living within the physical limits of natural systems — or, as the case is, in excess.
A footprint is a tool. And like any tool, it has its limits. Footprints operate through an materialistic assumption that only what can be measured matters. They regard our mother, the Earth, as if she were a factory operating with a certain budget. This of course is not to say the Earth does not have physical limits; we indeed need to know this data in relation to our activities. But footprints can only tell us if we are failing or succeeding in living within natural limits. They do not get to the deeper issue — WHY we do what we do.
A thoughtprint is also a tool. It too has limits. The ecological thoughtprint is impossible to put a number on, difficult to define and break down into clean categories. There will be attempts to “measure” our thoughtprint through surveys or other analyses. However, the thoughtprint is necessarily vague and ambiguous.
Generally, the thoughtprint is a description. It attempts to describe our ways of thinking — ways of thinking which themselves are extremely complex. It allows us to systematically reflect on how we justify our actions toward the planet, to recognize the assumptions we so often take for granted.
Beyond simply recognition, the ecological thoughtprint can help us discover — and sometimes re-discover — other ways of thinking which may open doors to new (or ancient) ways of being in the world.
We need footprints and thoughtprints. Just as a person with an addiction to alcohol may need to measure and watch how much he drinks, he also needs to know the emotional truth of why he drinks so, and be open to other ways of thinking about himself and the world. Likewise, we need to grasp our impact on Nature as well as the underlying influences. To limit ourselves to footprints, to measurement, to resource bookkeeping, is to dwell at the surface of what is an ocean-deep challenge.
When we give up our sole focus on empiricism and measurement of “resources”, we can finally move forward. We need thoughtprints to take the next step.