What Manhattan might look like if sea levels continue to rise. Photo illustration by John Blackford; original photograph by Cameron Davidson (featured in Vanity Fair)

With our current technological and economic models? Absolutely not. No doubt about it. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource, international wars are waged over it and the environment is decimated in the process.

However, there’s no reason in the world that we can’t change our lifestyle habits.

But we have to stop looking for heroes to lead us. We have to start acknowledging the true power we have within ourselves. And that power is conscious consumerism.

Every product we buy, every service we purchase, every morsel we consume and every vehicle we travel in has a real and undeniable effect on the world. My personal goal over the next decade is to raise the bar on my own living situation as high as possible, with the end result being “total sustainability”.

The Will To Change

At the beginning of 2006, I will have started as an overweight, out of shape consumer with an average amount of credit card debt and personal property. By the end of 2016, I will be a debt-free, in-shape man who produces his own food and actually puts more into the environment than he takes away.

And I’m going to document every step of this journey so that others can figure out how to do so for themselves.

If you take a look at all of the choices I’ve made over this past year (getting rid of my car, shopping at farmer’s markets instead of grocery stores, minimizing the amount of plastic products I’ve bought), I have reduced my carbon emissions and petroleum consumption to levels that will balance out with the amount of international travel I’ll be doing this year.

But airplanes are notorious for the amount of emissions they make, and I’m more than aware of this.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

That’s why I’m also using “carbon offsetting” on my trip, as offered by companies such as Be Green. There are many different ways to do this, but the ways I’ve found most effective are to plant enough trees to absorb the carbon emissions my trip will put out and to invest in solar energy companies so as to help create a surplus of renewable energy.

There are companies out there that can help you calculate your carbon footprint and then facilitate necessary actions to zero it out. Buyer beware, though, as many companies are falsely hopping on the bandwagon and “greenwashing” themselves to appear more eco-friendly than they actually are.

Now, I want to emphasize that carbon offsetting is by no means a catch-all, cure-all.

Balancing out our carbon emissions doesn’t stop the pollution which is caused by the mining and refining of petroleum. Nor does it stop the international wars that are waged over it. I’d hate to see people grow complacent and think that carbon offsetting is all that they need to do in order to continue traveling long distances.

That’s why I only suggest using this method as a stepping stone in the right direction.

I think it’s so very important for all of us to personally take stock of how much of an environmental footprint we leave on the world, so that we can focus on lessening that footprint every day, week, month and year – with the goal being total sustainability.

Think of conscious consumerism as your toolbox, and carbon offsetting as your hammer. However, you can’t just build a house using only a hammer, right?

Derek C Wallace is a conscious consumer and an advocate for organic reform. In fact, he’s embarking on a world-wide trip to learn about sustainability and share it with the rest of the US. Visit his website to learn more.