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Consumer Consequences

Find out if you are living a sustainable life.

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Frequently asked questions

Playing the Game

Why does the picture change after I answer a question?

As you answer questions, you'll see "scrims" like you might see in a theater slide across the screen and snap into place. They reflect the waste you produce… the commercial, residential, industrial and transportation infrastructure you require… the fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy you consume…and how your lifestyle impinges on forests and other undeveloped land. When you first start playing, every scrim is set to 'minimum.' As you play, the scrims respond to show you what the world might look like if everyone lived as you do. You'll also see small graphics (like solar panels, a car, a bus stop, etc.) pop onto the screen in response to some of your answers.

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Why can't I see the 'Changing U.S. Policy' questions on the first round of play?

We want to make sure the answers you give the first time you play are about how you live – not about how you'd change the system. The policy questions are designed to let you see what might happen if the U.S. government enacted legislation that would change the playing field.

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About the Questions

Does the neighborhood I choose have an effect on my score?

No. The kinds of communities we live in do play a part in our environmental impact but there are lots of different ways to live in cities, rural areas, or anywhere else. In the game, your state, your utility bills and the size and style of your home measure the environmental impact of your living situation.

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Why don't you have options for people who live outside of the US?

Consumer Consequences is a part of American Public Media's Consumed series, which focuses on the U.S. consumer economy. We limited the scope of the game to spend more time tuning it state-by-state for an American audience. If you select N/A as your "state" in the Home question panel, the game calculates using U.S. average energy data for you.

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Why don't you ask me how old my home is?

The age of your home affects how efficiently you use energy as well as the degree to which "new" resources are being used to provide you with shelter. But we didn't ask about it because your energy bills, together with your state's energy profile, give a good sense of how much energy you're using in your home.

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How did you come up with the state averages for electricity, heating oil, and natural gas bills?

We based these averages on the national average consumption per capita for electricity, heating oil and natural gas, combined with the cost of each of these items in each state. We got our numbers from the Energy Information Association's 2005 State Energy Profile data.

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Why doesn't each state's breakdown of electricity sources add up to 100%?

We rounded the electricity generation percentages to the nearest whole number and so a few states show energy profiles that add up to one or two percentage points above or below 100%.

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Why ask me if I consume like an average American? How am I supposed to know what's average?

Because it sure takes less time to answer that than to go through a long list of spending habits. After all, even a "serious" game like this needs to be fun and a rough approximation works just fine in the game.

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Why does going out to eat increase my footprint?

If you eat a meal at a restaurant, you could be wasting more food miles because you have less control over where your food comes from. Eating out also releases more emissions in the cooking of your food, and uses more labor than you would by cooking at home—never mind the larger hit to the wallet.

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What are the 'Changing U.S. Policy' questions for?

Changes you make to your own lifestyle affect your impact on the planet and so does national policy. Most Americans use power from public utilities, so making power plants more efficient or greener affects your score. And most of us are limited by market choices so regulations that influence individual choices (higher gas mileage for cars, compact fluorescent bulbs, greater efficiency standards for buildings) also affect your score.

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Behind the Numbers

What's behind the game's calculations?

Consumer Consequences is based on the Ecological Footprint Quiz developed by Redefining Progress. American Public Media modified some of the questions, added some questions based on additional research, and updated some of the data in consultation with Redefining Progress. American Public Media also added the option to "Change U.S. Policy."

Consumer Consequences is built using data that represents average U.S. consumer habits. When you answer the questions, you increase or decrease your score, which is expressed in global acres.

Roughly a quarter of the Earth's surface (land and water) is biologically productive, and a global acre represents the average productivity of that part of the Earth's surface. Global acres account for the fact that the Earth can only regenerate itself at a set rate.

If you divide the number of global acres by the number of people on the planet (6.6 billion), then each human's fair share is 4.5 global acres. So, if your lifestyle requires more than 4.5 global acres, you're using more than our planet can sustain.

You'll find more information about the methodology of ecological footprinting on the Redefining Progress Web site.

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How did you adapt the ecological footprint model for your use?

American Public Media used some of the same questions as the Ecological Footprint Quiz, and added others to make the game fresh and fun and to allow players to answer the questions in any order. Many of the questions ask for your general habits and then convert those generalities into numbers. This involved setting the model to represent average U.S. consumer habits and then increasing or decreasing the "Earths" score according to how you describe your habits.

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What do the bars on the Results screen represent?

Those bars represent your relative ecological footprint for each area of consumption: your home; the energy you use in your home; the waste you generate at home; transportation; food; and shopping. Even just a quick glance at the results bars will tell you which areas of your life have the largest footprint. Add up the bars, divide them by 4.5, and that's how the game calculates the number of Earths that your lifestyle would require, if everyone lived like you.

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Learning More

How do I find out more about footprinting?

We built the mathematical model that makes Consumer Consequences work using the math behind the Ecological Footprint Quiz from Redefining Progress. You can find more in-depth information about footprinting methodology on the Redefining Progress Web site.

Global Footprint Network is also advancing the science of footprinting.

You can also explore footprint calculators from Best Foot Forward, the WWF and the new economics foundation.

Do you have recommendations for other footprint calculators to list? Submit them.

What's the difference between CFLs and LEDs?

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) use 75% less energy and last up to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs. Their initial cost is higher than standard bulbs but since they last longer and use less energy, they save money over the life of the bulb. A CFL is very similar to a fluorescent tube, but the shape is different, so it can be screwed into a standard light socket. Recent advances in fluorescent technology have improved the quality of light emitted by CFLs so that differences with standard incandescent bulbs are minimal.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) last ten times longer than CFLs but they are even more expensive and their light is more one-directional. LEDs are used commonly for specialty commercial lighting but they haven't yet broken into the common household lighting market.

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Where can I learn more about home energy audits?

The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program has tips for conducting home energy audits on its Web site. The Home Energy Saver from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will guide you through a series of questions designed to help you figure out where you can reduce your energy use. Your state's government Web site might also have information about energy audits and how to save energy.

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Where can I learn more about purchasing green power through my electric utility?

The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program's Web site lists the availability of green energy for purchase through electric utilities in each state.

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How do I learn more about reducing my footprint?

Here's a brief list of resources and jumping-off points:

Got a resource to recommend? Submit it.

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