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Home > Resource Conservation > Soil > My Impact

Resource Conservation: Soil: Calculate My Impact.

soil pics.
Being good stewards of the soil not only helps you and your family, it promotes healthier communities. The impact is huge is the soil is treated a little differently.



What is my impact? If everyone did what I am doing, could we have less pollution, global climate change and hunger? Could we even eliminate these threats all together?
     Great questions. We will take a shot at answering these and other questions. The answers may not always be easy but we will bring you along every step of the way on our calculation.
     Bear in mind, these calculations are designed to analyze how we utilize our land. These land uses include mining, agriculture, urban, suburban, conservation, transportation, recreation and a bunch others. We are not here to condemn any of these uses, merely to calculate the need for them.
Our analysis will follow the path described below:
  • Beginning Facts And Assumptions.
  • Assumptions Explained.
  • My Personal Impact.
  • My Impact On My City.
  • My Impact On The U.S.A.
  • My Impact On The World.
  • Summary.

Facts And Assumptions:

World Facts:
  • Total area of the earth: 196.9 million square miles (126 billion acres)
  • Total land area of the earth: 57.5 million square miles (36.8 billion acres)
  • Total water area of the earth: 139.4 million square miles (89.2 billion acres)
  • Total population of the earth: 7.26 billion (July 2015)
  • Number of nations: 196 with 72 dependent areas, not counting First People Sovereign nations in North America.
  • Average consumption of food per person: 1,800 calories per day.
  • Amount of Natural Gas Required to Make 1 lb of fertilizer: 35 cubic feet.
U.S. Facts
  • Total land area: 3.6 million sq. miles (2.3 billion acres)
  • Total Population: 318 million (2013)
  • Total crop and grazing land: 1.81 million sq. miles (1.16 billion acres)*
  • Total Urban, Suburban, Military, Transportation and Industrial land use: 0.334 million sq miles (214 million acres)*
  • Total Urban land use (cities): 0.095 million sq. miles (61 million acres)*
  • Food Production (Retail and consumer level): 3,800 Cal/person/day (433 billion pounds).
  • Total Meat Production In U.S.: 93 billion pounds.
  • Total Cropland: 0.638 million sq. miles (408 million acres).*
  • Total Grazing Land: 1.16 million sq. miles (740 million acres).*
  • Amount of Chemical Fertilizer Applied to Cropland: 44 billion lbs. (N, P, K) (2010)
  • Amount of Chemical Pesticides Applied to Cropland: 0.51 billion lbs. (2010).
  • 63% of U.S. Population live in cities.
  • There are 3.2 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms.
Personal Facts:
  • Average Consumption per person in US: 2,550 Calories/day.
  • Percent total protein calories come from animal proteins in the U.S.: 65%
  • Average Calories a person should consume: 2,100 Calories/day.
  • Total Hard Land-Cover In Urban/Suburban Areas: 50%
  • Industrial Crop Diesel Use: 4.8 gallons per acre.
  • No-till Crop Diesel Use: 2.3 gallons per acre.
  • Industrial Domestic Animal Production Land use In US: 381.1 million acres
  • Average distance food travels to your table: 1,500 miles.
  • Average distance NPK travels from production to the farm: 1,600 miles.

* 2007 estimates.

Assumptions Explained:

Average Calories A Person Should Consume: 2,100 cal/day
We know that the amount of calories required to consume by people is very different if you are male, female, young, old, tall, short and maybe a few other factors. We read that nutritionists here in the U.S. say 2,200 Cal for women and 2,700 Cal for men is the required for people to maintain their weight. In the U.K., those numbers are 2,000 Cal and 2,200 Cal. According to the UNFAO, worldwide, the average persons calorie intake is 1,800 Cal. but there is a lot of hunger in the world. So, we just assume that to feed a population, you need nutrient dense foods to the tune of about 2,100 Cal on average per person per day.

Total Hard Land-Cover In Urban/Suburban Areas:
When estimating the hard land-cover (roofs, roads, parking lots and other impermeable things) in cities, we saw estimates of as much as 90% at the mall or industrial areas to as little as 20% for people living on acreage in the suburbs. We saw estimates from NASA, map makers and even the EPA. The numbers were all over the place. You can find out how much impermeable surface exists on your home or where you work just by taking a few measurements or looking at a satellite photo. For The purposes of our country wide calculation, we will say that 50% of all properties surfaces are impermeable.

Industrial Crop Diesel Use:
Here we found a reference from the University of Colorado providing estimates for energy consumption per acre. They give the energy consumption in terms of gas, diesel and liquid propane. We went with diesel but there is a factor to get either gas or liquid propane. How we calculated the use is the following: 1.66 g/acre to till, 0.6 g/acre to cultivate, 0.65 g/acre fertilize, 0.65 g/acre to apply pesticide once, 1.25 g/acre to harvest with a combine. That adds up to be 4.81 g/acre. This is not an estimate of diesel required to get the inputs to the farm and remove the outputs from the farm.

No-Till Crop Diesel Use:
Using the same reference above, we get: 0.35 g/acre to do no-till seed drill for cover crop, 0.35 for herbicide or roll out of cover crop, 0.35 g/acre to no-till seed drill for cash crop, 1.25 g/acre for harvest combine. That adds up to be 2.3 g/acre. Again, this is not an estimate of diesel required to get the inputs to the farm and remove the outputs from the farm.

Industrial Domestic Animal Production Land use In US:
Go to our page on Misconceptions In Landscaping page. Under the section on "Feedlot Efficiency" we provide an estimate about the current land use for livestock and the crops grown to feed those animals. That estimate is 381.1 million acres.

Average distance food travels to your table: 1,500 miles.
OK, this statistic originates from a study done in 2001(Rich Pirog) about the distance 33 crops took to get to Chicago. This estimate will not be accurate everywhere and has a few flaws. However, we want to use some number to get an estimate of the impact of what buying local should compare to.
     When calculating diesel used for this trip we will use 440 miles for 1 ton per gallon of diesel on a train. Use 250 miles/gal (bunker C) for 1 ton on a ship. And we use 55 miles/gal for 1 ton on a truck. So for purposes of argument we assume that 1,500 miles is broken up like 500 miles on a ship, 700 miles on a train and 300 miles on a truck. This calculates to about 9 gallons of diesel for every ton of food in the city.
Average distance NPK travels from production to the farm: 1,600 miles.
According to the fertilizer institute only half of the nitrogen based fertilizer is produced in the U.S.. Else, it looks like most would travel 350 miles on average. Now, the other half of the nitrogen and 85% of the potassium comes from other countries (Canada), We generally assume the average is 3,000 miles (but it is probably more). Doing a weighted average on all of that we get 1,600 miles. We will just assume that is 10 gallons of diesel to transport a ton of NPK to farms (we think this is an underestimate).

My Personal Impact:

Your home and business is where you make the most impact on the land you live on. Stewardship of your soil is a great way to connect with the Earth. It also helps anyone gain security with their food, fiber and medicine. We suggest you start simply and get more involved as you get comfortable and learn more.

Toxic Land:
We suggest you look at your towns regulations before starting. Some things may be prohibited. Likewise, you may consider testing your land for toxic substances. Look at our Home/Apartment Garden or Urban/Suburban Permaculture pages in the "Regulations and Toxic Land" section.

Water Use:
It will rain anywhere you live. It is better to use every bit of rain that falls on your property but that should not stop you from having a garden. Remember, your impermeable surfaces (roof, driveway, etc) can be used to increase the amount of water you have to water your plants.
     Consider installing water absorbing earthworks under and around your planting areas. An earthwork is a trench, terrace or yard clippings installed in such a way to slow water down as it goes across your property during a rain. If done right, it can greatly reduce the water used that is piped into your property. See this video from Brad Lancaster to get an idea of how this works.
     On our "Benefits of growing ..." page we estimate in a 25 week growing period you will use approximately 15.5 gallons of water per sq. foot of garden. If water absorbing earthworks and mulch are used the estimate is more like 6.25 gallons a sq. foot.
Food Impact:
Most of the food from the grocery store comes an average of 1,500 miles away. However, you growing a pound of tomatoes will not make a pound of tomatoes disappear from the truck bringing tomatoes to the local grocery store. The main impact you have is in the gas and time spent going to the grocery store. In another section of the web site (Benefits of growing ...) we estimate you will take 1 less trip to the grocery store for every 80 to 120 sq. ft of garden you feed per person. Trees may reduce that number to 50 sq. ft. but that is one crop.  We estimate you save 1 hour and 0.1 gallons of gas for each trip to the store you avoid.
     Another personal impact is your nutrition. Supplementing your caloric intake with produce you freshly picked is irreplaceable. If you eat well off your land, you may also go to the doctor less or get sick less.

Job Impact:
At first you will give a little extra business to a testing laboratory to test the toxicity of the soil. You may also employ a local lawn mowing person to help you get the garden started. If you take your property from having a simple small garden to a complete permaculture (or high bio-intensity) property you may decide to sell some of the produce grown on your property. This may even work into a full time job for you or a neighborhood friend. In general, we estimate 1 half time job per 1/4 acre property. We assume this scales by employing 2 people in 1 acre and 5 people for 3 acres (on an urban permaculture property). 

My Impact On My City:

Believe it or not, you can have a bigger impact on your city than you think. Your successes may be noticed by your neighbors. We encourage you to share what you have learned to create an overall better food security in your neighborhood and therefore your city.

Toxic Land:
Almost every city will have property that has been contaminated by human activity. This property may be turned into churches, the parks your children play on, or pubic land like libraries. If land is proposed to grow food, fiber or medicine it should be tested for toxicity. Even if it is toxic, not all is lost, there are some very inexpensive ways to recover the land. Look at our Home/Apartment Garden or Urban/Suburban Permaculture pages in the "Regulations and Toxic Land" section.
     Also, storm run off from the streets should be considered slightly toxic because it may contain some gas, oil, tar and antifreeze. That run off, however, could be directed to bioremediation plants and then to regular landscape.

Land Use:
In the above sections of "facts and assumptions" we state that there is 61 million acres of urban landscape in the United states. If we assume 50% is hard surface that makes 31 million acres of "soft" surface. That is yards, football fields, and other landscaping. If we assume that half of all of that soft surface could be used to grow food. That means, in our cities, people could grow on more than 15 million acres.
     That would mean businesses, schools, homeowners and government facilities could all grow some of the food, fiber, medicine and energy needs of the citizens of the town. Using the 0.117 acre/person model determined before, that means the cities could provide 66% of the nourishment required for people in cities using just 25% of the cities land mass. Of course, different cities would have different population densities so we assume that for any given city 60% to 70% of the nutrition requirements could be grown within city limits.

Food Impact:
The assumption is that food travels 1,500 miles to land on your plate. In the "Assumptions Explained" area above we assume that is about 9 gallons of diesel per ton of food (produce) just to get it from the farm to the city grocery store. That is 200 lbs (according to the EPA) of CO2 emissions per ton of food as well.
     We estimate 135 million tons of food come into the cities every year to feed 198 million people.   That burns approximately 1.2 billion gallons of diesel and creates 27 billion pounds of CO2 emissions. If 60% (81.3 million tons) of that came an average of 3 miles (40 miles/gal-ton)  before it is consumed that could save about 725 million gallons of diesel and 16.1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions a year.

Job Impact:
We will make estimates of job loss and gain for cities in the "My Impact On The U.S." section below. We will cover jobs in the fields of:
Grocery Stores: Positive
Healthcare Workers: negative
Farmers: positive
Transportation: negative
Police: negative
Incarceration Support: negative

My Impact On The U.S.A.:

So far, we have covered land use for 61 million acres (cities) of the 2,300 million acres of the US (2.6%). Approximately 150 million acres are in suburbs, military, transportation and industry. That leaves 2,086 million acres in range land, crop land and government land. How much of this land needs to be used to create the food, fiber, medicine and energy needs of our country?

Toxic Land:
We have contaminated a lot of land in the U.S.. Fortunately, there has been a lot of effort identifying, classifying and cleaning these sites. Some are part of "super fund" sites and some are small but very toxic. These lands are contaminated by large scale oil production, Plutonium production, mining, land fills, manufacturing, rail roads and a bunch of other activates.
     In general, what is required is millions of acres of land to "lock away" the toxic materials. The EPA estimates there are 3,747 sites in the country that have contaminated ground water. If each of these sites contaminated an average of 10,000 acres, that would be 37 million acres of land contaminated. The cost of cleanup for those sites is staggering.
     The best thing we can suggest is that we do not involve ourselves in buying things that create these wastes. We also encourage the creation of methods that are alternatives to activities that pollute the land, air and water. Look at our Home/Apartment Garden or Urban/Suburban Permaculture pages in the "Regulations and Toxic Land" section.

Food Land Use:
In the previous section we fed everyone (198 million people) in cities 60% of their calories from land in the cities. That leaves 40% of food requirements for people in the cities and 100% of the food requirements for the remaining 120 million people.
     Using the 0.117 a person per acre model we calculate another 8.5 million acres is required to grow 60% of the calories needed by the remaining 120 million people. That means, roughly 23.5 million acres (about 1% of US land) is required to feed the entire population 60% of it's calories (avg. 2,100 per person).
     We next assume that the rest (40%) of the calories come from eating animals. Currently, in the U.S. we assume the total animal production is grown on 381 million acres. That is 65.6 million acres for housing and 315.5 million acres to grow the feed. We showed that (on the Misconceptions page in the "Feedlot" section) if we pasture all of these animals, the land use could be more like 227 million acres for feed and housing. The American diet is about 27% meat, milk and eggs. Another 23% is from added fats and oils making a total animal product in the diet about 50%. And that is to supply an average of 3,800 calories a day to Americans.
     Assuming we can bring animal products to 40% of the diet and the total calories down to 2,100 calories per person, that means 840 calories could come from meat (a reduction of 56%). Assuming the same mix of animals just less of them that means 227 million acres becomes 100 million acres to grow the animals and their feed.
     Waste: In a 2010 study by the USDA, it was determined that about 33% of all food available at the retail and consumer level. If we assume another 7% waste at the farm and processing, that is 40%. By folding efficiency of being local into the picture we could make that number go down to possibly 30% (less than 10% would be desirable). That means that our land estimates need to be inflated by 30% to get the ideal acreage for food. So, that is acreage for animals + acreage for plants = total acreage needed. That is 130 million + 31 million = 161 million acres (about 7% of all U.S. land)
     Who is going to grow it and where? All of this assumes everyone will grow food where ever they live. Not everyone will. However, we believe enough people, government facilities (schools, libraries, military bases, so on), businesses to grow food on 25% of their land. So of the 214 million acres that are urban, suburban, military, transportation and industrial we might be able to grow on 54 million acres (25%) of that. That leaves 107 million acres to grow food on. This 107 million acres (10% of total U.S. crop and grazing land) could be land within 20 miles of each town. The model now becomes: 60% within 3 miles, 25% within 20 miles (decentralizing meat production) and 15% averaging 1,500 miles. That would make the average trip 230 (85% reduction) miles for your food.

Other Land Use?
That leaves about 1 billion acres of crop and range land in the U.S. to grow fiber, medicine and energy. Roughly 13 million acres are used to grow cotton, tobacco and sugar crops. Forest products are separated out from that 1 billion acres.
     Before we put all of that land into conservancy, we may want to look at how we import/export stuff in this country. In 2013 we exported $1.42 Trillion dollars of goods but imported $2.13 Trillion dollars worth of goods. That is a trade imbalance of $715 billion. What we can do is either export more or import less. It would be more ecologically (and economically) sound if we imported less. If we did that we would need that 1 billion acres of land to create $1,000 (at least) of value per acre.
     What can we grow to accomplish this? We should start with our biggest imports and work our way down but any import will do. By the way, if we stop importing all the Ammonium and Potash that saves about $10.5 billion. Here is a list of some places we can start. (in Billions)
  • Crude Petroleum - $259
  • Cars - $156
  • Computers - $94
  • Refined Petroleum - $76.3
  • Vehicle Parts - $59.6
  • Broadcasting Equipment - $51.1
  • Telephones - $36
     You get the idea. It might be hard to grow phones and cars but we may be able to grow substitute for refined crude and crude itself. We do not mean biodiesel and ethanol, necessarily. We mean something our land can support and still get us clean benefits that crude oil provides.
     Our farmers are smart people. We have faith they can come up with something that will make us net exporters rather than growing more corn.
In 1949 the population of the United States was 150 million and by 2012 the population was 314 million. In 1949 there were approximately 201,000 physicians and in 2012 there were about 1.03 million doctors. That means there was 1 doctor for every 750 people in 1949 and now that number is more like 1 in 300.
     There are roughly 7 medical professionals (Nurse, x-ray tech, lab worker, etc) for every doctor. That means there is nearly 8 million people working in the medical profession. Are they all needed?
     There are many diseases associated with poor nutrition. Diabetes, Anemia, Osteomalacia/Rickets, Blindness, Osteoporosis and diseases of a poor immune system (cancer) are just a few examples of diseases caused by poor nutrition. Great strides are being made to treat these diseases, but we are severely lacking in our ability to prevent them. Diabetes, alone has jumped from 8.8% of the population in 1990 to 12% in 2014. While rates of some cancers are going down in that same period. There are all kinds of factors influencing these numbers (smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption, activity, etc.).
     We want to provide an estimate of the health care professionals actually needed in the U.S. if our nutrition improves. According to Health Intelligence, the prevalence by country of diabetes, ranged from 37.5% (Tokelau) to 1.6% (Mali) of the population. That tells us that we could easily cut our rate in half to 6%. What would that do to our healthcare system? That alone is 19 million people that do not have Diabetes. That alone would put more than 190,000 doctors out of a job (assuming 1 in 100). Total job loss from that (including non-doctors) is 1.5 million healthcare professionals.
     We also feel that with better nutrition we can see improvements of at least 10% for all other medical conditions. Of course, older Americans will need more attention because they will live longer. Therefore we will assume a net reduction of medical personnel of 5% past our assumptions about diabetes. That means 50,000 less doctors and 350,000 less support jobs.

Job Impact:
Before we get to our estimates of job impact we first must discuss the necessity of keeping jobs local. In America, people want success. Success in business is usually to take a small local business national and then international. The bigger the better. We are asking people to consider making businesses with as many white collar level incomes as possible in a small area. Maybe if business is great, that could be replicated at other locations (like franchising). O.K. on to job impact estimates.

     Grocery Stores: Negative There are roughly 3.4 million people working in grocery stores in America. If more farmers sell directly to consumers we estimate a loss of jobs in grocery stores of 50%. That is 1.7 million jobs lost.
     Transportation: Negative This one is a little hard to tell. Of course, if most food is not going any more than 50 miles then rail, trucking and shipping jobs are lost. However, the products of the 1 billion acres would still need to be shipped.
     Farmers and Farms: Positive There are currently 3.2 million farmers on 2.1 million farms. Look at our estimate for jobs created in urban/suburban areas of 5 white collar salary jobs every 3 acres in production of food. Next look at the 54 million acres estimate of food producing lands. Assuming 40% of that land is commercially developed. That is 36 million jobs created. On the other 1.1 billion acres of cropland we could have about 1 million farmers. For a total of 34 million jobs farming added.
     Soil Amendment Industry (NPK): Negative According to The Fertilizer Institute 515,000 jobs in the U.S. rely on the sales of fertilizer. They estimate the industry is worth $162 billion dollars. All unnecessary. Therefore, all 515,000 jobs are lost.
     Healthcare: Negative Looking at the section above we estimate 240,000 doctors and 1.7 million health care support. That is a total job loss of 1.9 million jobs.
     Police and Law: It has been shown that if people pull together to grow their own food it builds a sense of community. That community has a tendency to keep people from committing crimes (crime rates go down). In 2011 there were 1.1 million people employed in law enforcement (officers, stenographers, clerks and so on). Likewise, there are currently 2.2 million people in prison and jail. We believe that an added sense of community in all our cities can bring these numbers down by at least 10% (can be much more). If that is the case, we can have 110,000 less people working in Law Enforcement with 220,000 less people in prison.

My Impact On The World:


Savings Calculation:

More Savings Calculations:

Glossary of Terms:


http://www.no-tillfarmer.com/ No-till farmer web site. Good general information. taken 9/5/2015.

https://www.tfi.org/statistics/statistics-faqs, Statistics FAQ., The Fertilizer Institute. Taken 1/12/2016.

http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/cropan15.pdf, Crop Production Summary 2014, USDA, taken 1/24/2016.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2016/01/24/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-of-the-new-x-files/#2ad0e66a17b4 It does not take 7 kg of grain to make 1 kg of Beef. Forbes, taken 1/24/2016.

http://www.earthsave.org/environment.htm, Food Choices and the Planet, Earthsave, taken 1/24/2016.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1282296/eib121.pdf, Estimated Amount, Value and Calories Of Postharvest Food losses the Retail and Consumer Levels In the United States, Feb, 2014, USDA, Taken 1/24/2016.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2012-march/data-feature-how-is-land-used.aspx#.Vr7-K_krJkg, How Is Land in the United States Used?, USDA, Taken 2/12/2016.

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004373.html Profile of the World, 2015, World land estimates, Taken, 2/12/2106.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1104145/eib112.pdf, Agriculture Supply and Demand for Energy and Energy Products, May 2013, USDA, Taken 2/13/2016.

http://www.waterandenergyprogress.org/library/05006.pdf, Estimating Farm Fuel Requirements, Colorado State University, Taken 2/14/2016.

http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/what-test-kits-can-detect-contaminants-garden-soils-fruits-and-vegetables.html,What Test Kits Can Detect Contaminants in Garden Soils, Fruits, and Vegetables? Tree Hugger, Taken 2/15/2016.

http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases.html, Overview of Greenhouse Gases, EPA, Taken 2/16/2016.

http://www.wellservicingmagazine.com/featured-articles/2009/01/fertilizer-from-petroleum/, Fertilizer from Petroleum, Wellserviingmagazine.com, taken 2/22/2016.

https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15-33.html U.S. Cities are home to ..., U.S. Census Bureau, Taken 3/20/2016.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/291408-list-of-diseases-caused-by-poor-nutrition/ List of diseases caused by poor nutrition, Livestrong.com , Taken 3/22/2016.

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/66/2/460S.short Nutrition and the immune system: an introduction., The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Taken 3/22/2016.

http://www.healthline.com/health/malnutrition#Types2 Nutritional Deficiencies (Malnutrition), healthline.com, Taken 3/22/2016.

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db168.htm Mortality in the United States, 2012, CDC, Taken 3/22/2016.

http://cta.ornl.gov/vtmarketreport/pdf/chapter3_heavy_trucks.pdf Heavy Trucks, ORNL.gov, Taken 3/23/2016.

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2008/09/whats_in_a_number.html What's in a number? Slate.com, taken 4/2/2016.

https://cfpub.epa.gov/roe/indicator.cfm?i=60 Migration of Contaminated Ground Water Under Control at High-Priority Cleanup Sites, EPA, Taken 4/3/2016.

http://robslink.com/SAS/democd65/usproductionmaps.pdf U.S. FERTILIZER PRODUCTION AND MINING FACILITIES AT A GLANCE, The Fertilizer Institute. Taken 4/4/2016.

http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/usa/ Inport/Export of the US, 2013 numbers, OEC, Taken 4/8/2016.

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus14.pdf Health, United States, 2014, CDC, Taken 4/10/2016.

http://chartsbin.com/view/1150 Daily Calorie Intake per Capita in the world, Chartbin, Taken 4/10/2016.

https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/police-employee-data Police Data, fbi.gov, taken 4/12/2016.