Beyond Ecological Footprints

I’d like you to watch the 20 minute Resource Abundance by Design video once again by William McDonough.

Why? Well, now that we are looking at ecological footprint calculators it is important to remember what true natural design looks like. You can see how an ecological footprint really talks about doing “less bad”. McDonough speaks about doing “more good”.

He also addresses the issue of contaminated land. From an ecological footprint perspective, this land is seen as “unusable” and is written off. Yet, this is not true. When we realize that a toxin is simply a material in the wrong place, the land can be remediated.  The cadmium and lead (toxic in soil) is extracted and can be put to use in creating technical devices. In this way, the once contaminated land can not only be used for growing food again, but can also be a source of valuable “technical nutrients” for building computers – brilliant!

From there, take a look at the 3 minute video Reflections on a Future of Abundance by William McDonough. This video highlights the key concepts of eliminating the concept of waste and seeing all as nutrients.

An Ecological Footprint in Context

What is an Ecological Footprint?

An ecological footprint is essentially a measure of resource consumption. There are a variety of different ecological footprint calculators available. Each one asks a number of different questions about your day-to-day practices related to diet, transportation, housing, goods and services. From this data, it translates the amount of resources used into the total amount of land required to produce these resources. From there it multiplies your individual use by the total population of the planet. This is why calculators provide both a value in hectares (the individual amount) and the number of planets (your individual resource use multiplied by the human population).

What is an Ecological Footprint, really?

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In a similar perspective as discussed in the climate change lesson, it is important to focus on what to create rather than on what to avoid. The focus on “avoiding poverty” is misguided. Rather the focus needs to be on “creating abundance”. Moreover, there are many who see the movement away from full-time permanent jobs as such a hard thing and say “Oh, I am so glad I am not a young person today starting out in the world”. Do not be fooled by this kind of mentality. We live in a world where we have endless opportunity to create and recreate our occupations. This is an asset not a detriment.

Here is my story about a Majestic Oak Tree teaching a sapling about what it is to create with dirt. You can also listen to the story here on my website. I recognize this does not speak to what you will individually create within your chosen profession – for that is something you already know or will discover. It is important to remember each one of us can create something beautiful every single day.

The Majestic Oak Tree by Julia Burke (2016)

Once upon a time there was a big beautiful Oak Tree. This Oak Tree had grown deep down into the ground with roots that stretched far into the soil below. Its trunk and limbs stretched high into the sky. Its leaves were beautiful and shone and sparkled in the sunlight.

Around this beautiful Oak Tree, there were a number of saplings growing in the sunshine. They said to the Oak Tree, “Why are you so large and grand? You should not be so tall. You should be small like us – just little saplings.”

The Oak Tree laughed, “that is such a silly thing to say. I cannot be small like you. I am a big, beautiful, grand and majestic oak tree. I could not be a sapling even if I tried. The seeds that fall from my branches, they can be saplings, but not I . I am a big, beautiful oak tree.”

The other saplings around said, “we do not like that. We do not like that you are such a grand and large oak tree. We feel rather small beside you.”

The Oak Tree laughed, “well then grow little saplings, grow. You are in the same dirt as I. You receive the same sunshine as I. You breathe in the same air, the same oxygen. You have the same process of photosynthesis to create fuel. Do not be upset with my own grandeur. Simply grow saplings. That is what you are to do is grow.”

The saplings pouted “I don’t know what this grand old Oak Tree is talking about this dirt. It is dark and I don’t even like dirt.”

The grand old Oak Tree laughed again “You do not like dirt? Ah, I see. It is not that you do not like dirt. It is that you do not know how to create from dirt. For dirt is the most beautiful of all. Dirt can become anything. I have taken the dirt and have become a beautiful oak tree. I reach high into the sky. My leaves shimmer in the sunlight. I provide a home for the birds that nestle into my branches and build their nests and raise their young. I am a tree. I turn colour in the seasons. I filter water below me. I breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. I create fuel from light. I am a tree. And I began as a seed in the dirt.”

“Dirt is the most beautiful canvas. Look at how the golden wheat in the fields create with dirt – the pink lady slippers and brilliantly bright sunflowers. Dirt is the most wonderful thing of all for. It is the beginning of all creation – simply dust. God gave us dirt.We create with dirt little saplings. Look around and see all the beings around you creating with dirt – wonderful, wonderful dirt!”

The saplings were speechless.They had never heard someone talk about dirt in this way before. It was only dirt.

Then one of the saplings started to wiggle her own roots a little bit. In this dirt, she started to grow a little deeper. In this dirt, she started to discover all the goodness there in the dirt – the minerals and the water – all the sustenance that allowed her to live and grow.

And then, she began to sprout her own leaves.

She looked at her leaves and said, “Wow, aren’t you beautiful?” And then sprouted another leaf. “Woah, Oak Tree you are right. Look, look I am growing. Look at my leaves. They are beautiful!”

And the Oak Tree said, “Yes, yes little Sapling, your leaves are beautiful.”


After reading the story, reflect on the questions below:

  • What does the Oak Tree create?
  • How is your occupation (or future occupation) an expression of your creativity?
  • What do you enjoy creating with “dirt”?
  • How can you incorporate further creativity into the work you do?

Embracing Biodiversity

When people think about biodiversity, they often think about a natural place far away. Yet, biodiversity is all around us when we open our eyes. It is incredibly important to recognize the diversity of life all around us. It is when we truly recognize the life around us that we can truly be grateful for it. Many people speak of “falling in love” with nature, a pet, or even people. Yet, love is not something you fall into or out of. Love is recognized. When we recognize love, we are grateful for it. From there, we naturally live in harmony with all of the surrounding biodiversity we are grateful for.

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Shifting the Focus on Climate Change

There is an incredible amount of information, data, articles, media stories, campaigns, petitions, protests and overall “politics” about climate change. When reviewing potential information to present to you on climate change, so much was coloured by an underling tone of Chicken Little’s the “sky is falling” and an ever growing list of what not to do. This is fear-based and stifles the kind of innovation and creativity that will bring about meaningful change.

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