How could information regarding an ecological footprint be used to change people’s consumption patterns? How can a nation or government reduce the size of their country's footprint when much...

How could information regarding an ecological footprint be used to change people’s consumption patterns? How can a nation or government reduce the size of their country's footprint when much depends on individual choices made by its people?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The belief that change is needed is the key to a reduction of individuals' ecological footprint.  Governments can assist in this process, but in the end, individuals will have to evaluate their choices and assess the need to change.

One of the first steps in this process is for people to understand what an ecological footprint actually is. Individuals might not see their actions as linked to a larger ecological reality.  Being able to break down what people do to show its ecological effect might be one of the most important steps to reduce consumption patterns.  Looking at where they live, examining their energy choices, dissecting their recycling habits, and looking at foods they eat as well as their mobility patterns are a part of this.  People have to see such choices in a larger configuration.

When individuals can break down what they do and see its wider implications, change has a better chance of taking place.  Sometimes choices and habits are not necessarily seen in an ecological sense.  For example, many might not associate eating beef with an ecological footprint. However, research indicates that beef requires "28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions... [and] 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases."  If a person decreases their beef consumption, their ecological footprint is reduced. This is one instance that proves how change can happen through reflection about ecological choices. Individual choices made by people are not permanent.  If one is made aware of the implications of human choices, ecological understanding and free will can be fused together.

Governments can play a significant role in this process of encouraging ecologically sound decisions without intruding on individual choice.  For example, many government bodies offer tax credits for installation of energy saving appliances and the building of ecologically sound housing.  This is one way in which governments can encourage a reduction of people's ecological footprints.  Another example would be for governments or nations to invest in ecologically sound infrastructure.  For example, building and developing public transportation alternatives can help to reduce dependency on automobiles.  Investing in better quality tap water can reduce individual usage of bottled water.  Developing effective recycling services in close proximity to individuals can encourage environmentally sound waste generation. In these instances, governments and nations can reduce the size of their footprint by guiding and supporting ecologically sound choices among citizens.

The reality is that people want to change.  There is an awareness that the planet demands it.  In research produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, "60% of people say they would be willing to pay extra for cleaner energy. Over 75% state that they would be willing to pay 20% more, on average, for an electric car relative to a conventional car."  It is evident that people's awareness about their consumption patterns is on the rise.  Facilitating this dialogue through personalized reflection and encouraging it with government incentives can enhance the chances of reducing individuals' ecological footprint.

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