Strange variations: Ecological Footprints in two countries

Last week I started an online course, An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health which is being run by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. It started out well. A lot of the introductory information was about things that I’m reasonably familiar with, through my studies or just general reading-for-interest, but there were also other elements that I didn’t know about, so it was nice to continue my learning.

One of the things that really fascinated me was taking the Ecological Footprint quiz. The coordinators suggested that we do this and respond to an overall class poll so we could see the wide range of resources that different students are using. They also suggested that we play around with the poll and explore how different living situations might produce different outcomes. Out of curiosity, I decided to compare my life here in the USA and my life in Australia.

This was my result for the USA:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.44.15 PM

This was my result for Australia:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.49.41 PM


Whaaaaat?! This seemed completely crazy to me. I really thought the outcomes would be very similar – my diet is very similar in both countries, our energy consumption is similar (although green options seemed more accessible in Sydney – possibly because I knew more about the electricity market at home), I use a car with the same very limited frequency, my purchasing habits and recycling/trash habits are much the same…even more strangely, I would typically fly further in a year in Australia than here!

I’m honestly having a lot of trouble figuring out this discrepancy. I’ve taken the quiz multiple times to make sure there wasn’t a glaring error. I’ve looked at it over and over. One difference I can see is that the Australian quiz is a lot more specific – for example, it asks what type of lightbulbs you use, how much your gas/electricity bills are per month etc. These aren’t options in the US version. Even so, I just can’t see any really compelling reason for the difference.

I’d be interested in what your thoughts are. I’d also be really interested to know what quiz results you get (and because it seems surprisingly relevant, what country you’re based in). You can take the quiz here.


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