Sharing Nature's Interest

July 20, 2001

By Michael Jessen

Jennifer Compton and Mark Haw are learning how to live off their interest instead of their capital.

The Nelson couple are not following an investment counselor's blueprint to economic prosperity for their retirement years. Rather they are exploring ways to reduce their ecological footprint (EF) and live simpler, well-balanced lives with regard for nature.

Recently, Compton and Haw assessed the environmental impact of their daily habits. Like normal people, the two take a hot shower in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, eat a variety of foods for breakfast, and hop into the car to get to work.

"The average Canadian requires about 18 acres of biologically productive land and sea space to sustain their lifestyle," says Compton, an environmental consultant and researcher who works with Southam Consulting Inc.

"Everything we consume relies upon the products and services of nature, both to supply us with raw materials and to assimilate our wastes," she adds.

With six billion humans sharing Earth's 30.9 billion acres of bio-productive land and sea, that means there's 5.2 acres for each human, although that leaves nothing for the estimated 25 million other species on the planet.

Currently, humans on average use seven acres globally, but this use is not distributed fairly. The average North American uses 20 times the resources to support their lifestyle compared to the average Chinese, African, or Indian. Americans have the largest ecological footprint, requiring 24 acres on average.

When Compton and Haw calculated their current lifestyle required over 20 acres, they resolved to take steps to reduce their personal impact.

"We are significantly exceeding our fair share," admits Compton.

The couple decided to become more involved in the Global Living Project (GLP), a living laboratory in the Slocan Valley that researches ways to live equitably and harmoniously within the means of nature.

As a participant in a month long GLP Summer Institute last year, Haw was able to gain some valuable hands-on skills like permaculture, wild-crafting, and alternative technology.

"Knowing how to apply these skills helps me to meet my own basic needs with only a small amount of resources," says Haw.

This year, Compton and Haw are co-directors of the GLP Summer Institutes in August, offering two weeklong residential programs for both educators and community members to share knowledge and skills to ensure a sustainable future.

"In response to rising temperatures, energy costs, population and resource demands, we are exploring ways to contribute to the security of ourselves, others and the Earth," says Haw.

The first week of the program -- from August 5 to 11 -- will feature GLP founder Jim Merkel, who at the age of 30 left a lucrative career in the weapons industry to work in defense of the Earth. He and his partner Erica Sherwood live in a small, super-insulated straw-bale cabin on Morning Star Ridge near Perry Siding. They will explore working models, educational resources, and simple living skills to help participants bring sustainability into their work, communities, and everyday lives.

Bright Ridge Farm, tucked away above the east side of Lower Arrow Lake, will be the site of the second week of the program from August 12 to 18. Farm owners Frank and Libby Ruljancich will share their more that 20 years experience living on a voluntarily low income with the provisions of their gardens, orchards, and surrounding wild edible foods.

"From preserving food to powering their home on a unique micro-hydro system, the Ruljancichs have found many ways to reduce their dependence on today's consumer culture," says Compton.

"There's a finite amount of natural resources in the planet's ecological bank account," she adds. "If we continually deplete this capital, then eventually we will have nothing left to draw upon. Thus we must learn to live within nature's interest.

"We ask others to join us," concludes Compton. "The reality is, if life is to continue on this planet in a sustainable way, there needs to be far more people willing to commit to creative changes for global equity."

ONE SMALL STEP - Food, transportation, and housing are the big resource gobblers in North America. Reducing the size of your ecological footprint is as simple as growing more of your own food supply or buying more from local growers. Reducing your reliance on the private automobile by taking public transportation and choosing to live in smaller sized home will also significantly impact on your resource use. To learn more about how you can participate in the Global Living Project Summer Institutes, call 250-352-1244 or send an e-mail to You can also visit the GLP web site at

RESOURCES - Jim Merkel is the author of The Global Living Handbook, which is available at Oliver's Books in Nelson. Merkel also wrote the article "What's Your Share of the Global Commons?" in the Summer 2001 issue of Yes! magazine. The second edition of Sharing Nature's Interest: Ecological Footprints as an indicator of sustainability is now available through Earthscan Publications Ltd. The book, written by Nicky Chambers, Craig Simmons, and Mathis Wackernagel, is an excellent introduction to the concept of ecological footprinting. Chambers and Simmons are part of Best Foot Forward, an innovative sustainability consultancy based in Oxford, England. The firm's web site is You can calculate your own ecological footprint on a number of web sites including San Francisco-based Redefining Progress is a leading organization for information on sustainability and the ecological footprint concept. You can learn more about the ecological footprint, and measure your own, at The July 2001 issue of National Geographic features Redefining Progress' Ecological Footprint in the Earthpulse section near the front of the magazine. The book "Our Ecological Footprint" by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees is published by New Society Publishers and can be ordered online at

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