Celebrity Ecological Footprints – how many Earths would we need if we all lived like Tom Cruise?

Q: Assuming that (a) Tom Cruise’s level of consumption is in parallel with his annual salary, and that (b) everyone on earth has the opportunity to live like Tom Cruise: How many Earths would we need to sustain this level of consumption?

A: About 2700 Earths. 2700 fricking Earths! (based on average salary stats in Canada, and the estimation of Tom Cruise’s salary based on articles seen in sources such as Forbes, etc)

In reality, this is a totally inappropriate way of figuring out an EF value (that is, using salary as an indicator), but it does present an interest question. That is – what would the consumption levels of an unwary celebrity be? The kind that thrives on “blingbling” Oscar bags, flies planes and races cars as a hobby? (Someone should take this on as a project, I’m sure there’s people out there with access to the day to day of celebrities, or maybe even via some of blogs that are out there).

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Just in case, you’re the sort who has heard of the ecological footprint, but maybe are not entirely sure what’s it all about, it’s essentially an empirical indicator of your consumption level, but calculated in a manner that looks at the land required on the planet to sustain you. The science is actually pretty robust which gives it tremendous merit. Here’s a quote from one of Bill Ree’s landmark papers, where he uses his hometown of Vancouver as an example:

Data from my home city, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, serve to illustrate application of the concept. Vancouver proper has a population (1991) of 472,000 and an area of 114 km2 (11,400 hectares). However, the average Canadian requires over a hectare (ha) of crop and grazing land under current land management practices to produce his/her high meat protein diet and about .6 ha for wood and paper associated with various other consumption items. In addition, each “occupies” about .2 ha of ecologically degraded and built-over (e.g., urban) land. Canadians are also among the world’s highest fossil energy consumers with an annual carbon emission rate of 4.2 tonnes carbon (15.4 tonnes CO2) per capita (data corrected for carbon content of trade goods). Therefore, at a carbon sequestering rate of 1.8 tonnes/ha/yr an additional 2.3 ha of middle-aged North temperate forest would be required as a continuous carbon sink to assimilate the average Canadian’s carbon emissions (assuming the need to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide levels).

Considering only these data, the terrestrial “personal planetoid” of a typical Vancouverite approaches 4.2 ha, or almost three times his/her “fair Earthshare.” [An additional .74 ha of continental shelf “seascape” is appropriated to produce the average Canadian’s annual consumption of 24kg of fish.] On this basis, the 472,000 people living in Vancouver require, conservatively, 2.0 million ha of land for their exclusive use to maintain their current consumption patterns (assuming such land is being managed sustainably). However, the area of the city is only about 11,400 ha.This means that the city population appropriates the productive output of a land area nearly 174 times larger than its political area to support its present consumer lifestyles.

In some ways, I think more important than the science, is the fact that Bill (whom we are most fortunate enough to have him here as a colleague at UBC) and Mathis have really presented the public with a marvelous way of conceptualizing insight into sustainable practices. Really, the EF is such a clever, and even pretty way to communicate these ideals.

So go take the test already, and let us know how you score – think of this as just another way to kick start a “consume less” mantra, and maybe we’ll check in again in a few months time to see if we’ve changed or not.

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David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and boingboing.net. He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at popperfont.net.