Beyond the usual “location, location and location” and the size and condition of the house, Wackernagel would add resource constraint. Does the value of the house depend on cheap energy? Will the value crumble if energy prices go up, which they almost certainly will?
The big house with the big yard in a bucolic setting, far from the noise and dirt of the city, is central to the American dream. But, Wackernagel pointed out, if the owner of the big house with the big yard has to spend big bucks on gas to get anywhere, the house will be worth less. If this same owner has to spend a bundle to heat and cool this big house, its value will fall even more.
Climate change will also affect housing value, Wackernagel said. This phenomenon is already bringing more severe weather with colder and stormier winters and hotter summers to much of the country, meaning more heating and air-conditioning energy to stay comfortable and higher household utility bills.
In short, Wackernagel said, “If the value of an asset depends on cheap resources — in this case, cheap energy — it will lose value when those resources become more costly.”
This has already happened in the East Bay area of Northern California, where Wackernagel lives. As recently as three years ago, larger houses with superb views perched in the hills above Berkeley and Oakland commanded premium prices over the smaller houses on the flat. Today, houses on the flat have gained in value while those in the hills have lost it. “People found their car-dependent lifestyle was costing them,” Wackernagel said. Gasoline prices in California are among the highest in the nation.
The cost of living is lower still for a one-car household, as Wackernagel’s is. And this can lead to some unexpected pleasures. He bikes to work every day on a tandem bicycle with his son, who hops off at school. “Without a doubt,” Wackernagel said, “it’s the best part of my day.”
The Ecological Footprint that Wackernagel devised uses an accounting system that converts all the world’s resources — including cropland, grazing pasture, forests, fisheries and the atmosphere — into hectares of land. (One hectare equals 2.47 acres). The Footprint calculation also factors in the size of the ecosystems needed to absorb the waste products produced by human activities.
With all the available resources today and the world’s current population of almost 7 billion, this works out to be 1.8 hectares, or 4.5 acres, per person. People in different countries, however, are consuming resources at vastly different rates. The average size of an American’s Ecological Footprint is 8 hectares, or 20 acres. If everyone lived as Americans do, we would need five planets worth of resources.