The public radio producer American Public Media has launched an interactive game called Consumer Consequences that allows users to model their own ecological footprints. The game prompts users to describe their lifestyles in terms of house size, car travel, energy use, food and shopping consumption, and the mathematical model behind the game translates the information into an easy-to-understand visual summary.
The bottom-line result tells you how many "Earths" of natural resources it would take to sustain all 6.6 billion humans...if everyone lived like you.
The model starts out with an Earth score of 1.0 and changes at each step as you describe your lifestyle. My final score was 8.1 Earths, a shocking number to internalize. The overall score is broken down into categories at the end of the simulation, which helps players identify sources of excess and potential areas of improvement. My trash, home and electricity scores were reasonably good, but even though I drive a Prius, my transportation subcategory had high consumption because of my frequent-flyer airline travel.
The program doesn't just end on potentially bad news, but rather gives each player an opportunity to go back and tinker with the inputs to see how changing various aspects of consumption, or aspects of government policy, would change one's overall environmental impact.
The Consumer Consequences game would be a thought-provoking activity to do as a family, providing kids a vivid snapshot that will allow them to consider their own consumption. The game is part of APM's "Consumed" series, which explores whether the modern American lifestyle is sustainable in the long run.
The exercise provides a good reminder for all of us that we can't just rest on our "green" credentials in one area of our lives. We need to look at the overall picture of our consumption to understand the impact each one of us has on the Earth's resources.