My name is Lynn Oliphant. I am a zoologist by training working both in the area of cellular structure and the ecology of falcons. I intend to share a series of weekly essays on the current world situation as I see it. This is the first:


I have been living for a number of years in a way that I hoped would lower my impact on the environment — the size of my “ecological footprint”. What follows is a brief summary of some aspects of how my wife and I live, followed by a concise summary of my conclusions as to its effectiveness and my analysis of the root causes of the current human predicament:

LOCATION: 25 km east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Hard winters and warm, dry summers.

LAND BASE: 160 acres; mix of native prairie and former cultivated land put back to “native” permanent cover in 1990.

HOUSING: Self-built, passive solar, straw-bale house built in 1996.

POWER: 18.7 kw grid-tied solar panel array; wood-burning stove.

FOOD: Approximately 50% of plant material grown ourselves; chicken/eggs grown and processed with friends and red meat primarily wild venison; milk formerly directly from local producer until he was shut down by “health authorities”.

WATER: 5,000 gallon cistern; total consumption about 20 gallons/day; Sun-Mar composting toilet; rubble trench grey-water line.

APPLIANCES/LIGHTING: Low-energy; NO clothes dryer, microwave, TV, etc.

TRANSPORTATION: EV (2013 Chevrolet Volt). We no longer fly.

CLOTHING: Primarily second-hand.

I believe that most people of the developed world would find this lifestyle unappetizing at the very least, yet just having calculated my ecological footprint I find the following: IF EVERYONE ON THE GLOBE LIVED IN THIS WAY WE WOULD REQUIRE TWO EARTH SIZE PLANETS. MY FOOTPRINT IS 3.4 GLOBAL HECTARES AND MY CARBON FOOTPRINT IS 4.8 TONNES/YEAR AND REPRESENTS 50% OF MY TOTAL FOOTPRINT.

One might consider this, if accurate, to be a bit of a stumbling block to the changes we need to see over the next few decades to address the following: CLIMATE CHANGE, THE SIXTH GREAT EXTINCTION, MORE SEVERE PANDEMICS, GLOBAL INEQUITY AND POVERTY, POLITICAL UPHEAVAL, ETC.

My conclusions are as follows:

SCALE MATTERS: We have vastly overshot the carrying capacity of the planet. If we want to live the typical western lifestyle global population must be held well under one billion even with complete transition to the best current technology.

PERCEPTION MATTERS: Where should we place humankind in the big picture? Was the earth made for mankind by some supreme being with a “great plan” or are we simply one part of a beautiful, living planet that has evolved naturally? Ecocentrism or Anthropocentrism?

EXPONENTIAL GROWTH OF THE HUMAN ENTERPRISE: Exponential growth on a finite planet is at the root of virtually all of the current problems we face whether driven by runaway capitalism or by well-intentioned, green-washed socialism.

I believe we now need to LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD. Our species has so far simply used SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY TO REMOVE LIMITS TO GROWTH instead of LEARNING HOW TO LIVE WITHIN THE LIMITS OF REAL WORLD ECOSYSTEMS. I am highly pessimistic that the “intelligent monkey” is up to the challenge. If Canada, with its vast resources including large areas of pristine wilderness, and a small, well-educated, rich and healthy population is unable to model a sustainable way of living on this planet, perhaps it cannot be done.