August 20 is 2013’s Earth Overshoot Day. It means it took us under 8 months to exhaust our 2013 budget and consume natural resources the planet needs 1 full year to produce. So as of the 20th and for the rest of the year, we are spending our children’s allowance from Nature. Or next year’s Nature allowance, however you see it. It is a sad fact, but many changes still could turn this trend around, so let’s focus on them, shall we?
Earth Overshoot Day was developed by Global Footprint Network and U.K. think tank new economics foundation to determine the date from which, each year we, women and men on this planet, start using more natural capital than the Earth can provide. It is an estimate but as close to a trusted marker as we can get. The overall trend is not good: Earth Overshoot Day arrives a few days earlier (about 3 days) each year.
Among the consequences of our ecological overspending: climate change (greenhouse gases are emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans), shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, soil erosion… But also more direct human disasters like hunger, epidemics, poverty, and higher commodity prices that widen the gap between rich and poor…
Quite a gloomy recount of things. But as often, there is a way out. In this case, it comes from personal drive. It is on all of us to do our bit and make our very own tiny difference, each and every day. There are countless ways to do so, and here are a few, to get you started. Also remember, whether parents ourselves or not, kids are in our daily lives anyway, learning from and copying us. After all, who are they supposed to watch for good example if not adults around them?
- Food: Avoid waste. Make a list when grocery shopping and only buy what you’ll eat. Half of the food worldwide goes to waste for very avoidable reasons and being mindful of what we really need starts in our individual shopping carts.
- Consumption: Buy durable vs. short lived items. We are surrounded by cheap plastic items. Yet, most of them also come in healthier, more durable material. Choose wisely. Take your kitchen for example. When tempted to go the single-use, disposable, or plastic way, invest instead in more sustainable options, like those made of wood, stainless steel or ceramic. Given the constant uses we get from kitchen items like containers, utensils and others, buying greener will pay back in no time, if more expensive to begin with.
- Pollution: Pick-up after yourself… and others if needed. Trash surrounds our lives, sometimes without us noticing. Pay special attention for a day and you’ll find many occasions to make a difference wherever you are: at the store (recycle these flying around sales flyers in the proper bin so they don’t end up in the trash), at school (pick up that half-empty juice box left on a bench, empty and dispose of it), on-the-go or in the cafeteria at work (put these clean napkins left on a table back on the pile)…etc.
- Travels: Stay local. We are often drawn to exotic places to completely cut from our daily routine, and we spend a lot on (remote) vacation locations, both from a money and carbon footprint perspective. Why not giving a chance to local activities, nearby locations, how about better appreciating the beauty that lives close to home? A successful vacation is not measured by the number of miles traveled away from home. You will also save travel time and most likely end up with more of your vacation budget to spend on enjoyable activities rather than in travel expenses.
Countries don’t all participate in the global green debt the same way. See this map on the left by Global Footprint Network (check each country’s individual status here). The redder a country is, the more of an ecological debtor it is and its demands in natural resources exceeds what its ecosystem actually produces. The greener countries are ecological creditors and produce more resources than they use. Overall though, the planet annually uses 150% of its natural resources, and even the green countries do see their natural capital dwindling year after year (due to other countries’ excesses).
With a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, only increasing the pressure on our planet’s natural resources, there is no other way to survival than to rethink what and how we live, eat, consume, work and travel.
Just like when deciding to live a greener life, small individual actions do matter and make a big difference. Again, we each and all play a unique, needed role in creating a world where we can finally live within our ecological limits. What changes do you think would be easy for You to implement? Would you be ready to make harder changes and if so, what are they?
Credit photo: #oShoot photo by WWF Singapore on Facebook.