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How many planets do we need?

What do 236 cylinders of propane and the weight of a female African elephant have in common? Answer: they’re both equivalents of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the average American car in one year.

So are you any the wiser on exactly how much 12,500 lbs of CO2 really is? Or how this relates to the (far, far) bigger picture of climate change?

Probably not. Imagining elephants and propane tanks doesn’t really get to the concrete implications of our daily consumer decisions. Even this page of emissions data equivalents lends itself to John Nash style mathematical ponderings, rather than clear understanding and action. And yet waking people up is precisely the goal of the calculations.

So I was excited to find the Consumer Consequences calculator today. It works on this premise:

The Earth couldn’t support its 6.6 billion residents if everyone lived like a typical American. Consumer Consequences will tell you how many planets it would take to support your lifestyle on a planetary scale.

It’s a fun calculator with some interesting ideas in it. Although you don’t get an accurate carbon footprint reading (it doesn’t pretend to give you one, to be fair), it will tell you how many times over we’d use up the earth’s resources if everybody lived like you. Or me.

NB: Screen grab of the game not with my own numbers!

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