Footprint Forum 2010

During the week starting June 6th I will be in Siena, Italy to participate in Footprint Forum 2010, put together by the Global Footprint Network. In fact, when this post goes up I will be already on my way to Italy. The week after that I will be in Germany and Belgium. My ability to respond to e-mails and comments will be limited during those two weeks, but I have left essays in the queue that will be published during my travels.

For those unfamiliar with Global Footprint Network, here is a partial description of their mission from their website:

“In 2003, Global Footprint Network was established to enable a sustainable future where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of one planet.

An essential step in creating a one-planet future is measuring human impact on the Earth so we can make more informed choices.

That is why our work aims to accelerate the use of the Ecological Footprint — a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.

The Ecological Footprint is a data-driven metric that tells us how close we are to the goal of sustainable living. Footprint accounts work like bank statements, documenting whether we are living within our ecological budget or consuming nature’s resources faster than the planet can renew them.

Our efforts are fueled by a future vision in which human demand on nature is monitored as closely as the stock market. A time when designers are shaping products, buildings, and cities that have one-planet Footprints. A world where all humans prosper and development succeeds because we are finally recognizing ecological constraints and using innovation to advance more than just the economic bottom line.”

I will play two roles at the forum. One will be to give a talk on the potential implications of peak oil, and then participate in a round table discussion over peak oil issues. My second role will be to give a short talk on the barriers that cities and infrastructure will face as oil supplies contract. The sessions will be filmed, so hopefully I can share some video here at some point. (Bios of the participants can be found here).

I can appreciate that some will find irony in the fact that people are flying in from all over the world to discuss how to lower our collective carbon footprint, so I will address that. The objective of this conference is to facilitate organizational change. If we all chose to stay home, then our personal carbon footprints would indeed be lower, but we will have missed our opportunity to educate, collaborate, and motivate people to help drive organizational change. Success in that area can make a far greater impact on regional or global carbon footprints than the energy I could save by staying home with my family, where I would rather be.

I have criticized Al Gore in the past when it was revealed that his home in Tennessee consumed the energy equivalent of more than 20 average U.S. homes. I believe that in his personal life he should be setting the example he urges others to follow. (And in fairness, some argued that the higher usage was because his home was his office). However, I have defended him when others criticized him for flying around the world to lecture the world about reducing their energy consumption. In fact, I defended him on that count in the same essay. If Al Gore travels halfway around the world and inspires a number of people to reduce their energy consumption – or better yet convinces organizations to make changes to lower energy consumption – then the net of his travels may be to lower overall energy consumption.

That has always been my view on these things. If I urge you to drive a fuel efficient car, or to walk or bike more – you can bet that I am doing the same. I would never suggest that others do things I myself am not willing to do. I strive to practice what I preach. But sometimes you have to travel to preach, even if that’s something I would often rather not do. My youngest son asked me – with tears in his eyes – why I had to go. I tried to explain to him that I only go because I have made it my mission in life to make sure he inherits a world that hasn’t been ruined by those of us who came before him. I promised him that some day he would understand.