We Just Reached A Major Climate Milestone (And It Isn't Pretty)

We Just Reached A Major Climate Milestone (And It Isn't Pretty) Hero Image
Photo: Jacob Lund

Today marks Earth Overshoot Day, and in case the name didn't give it away, it's not an occasion to whip out the streamers and celebrate.

Falling on a different day each year, it marks the point that world's demand for ecological services officially exceeds what the planet can provide annually. In other words, it's 212 days into 2017 and we've already used up the natural resources that are supposed to last us all year. At this rate, we'd need 1.7 Earths to sustain the food, fiber, and fuel we're burning through.

Though people only started acknowledging this bleak occasion in 2006, the Global Footprint Network—the international think tank that crunches these numbers—has used historical data to retroactively calculate when the day would have fallen in the past. Unsurprisingly, it has crept up on us earlier and earlier each year as the global population continues to grow. However, the last few years have shown progress: There's a 13-day difference between where Earth Overshoot falls now compared to 10 years ago, while there was a 45-day difference over the 10 years before that. This volatility is due in part to disasters like recessions and oil crises, but the steadying carbon footprints of major world powers thanks to a decreased reliance on coal also play a role in evening things out.

"In the U.S., for instance, we have a very high level of consumption, but even though the economy is now larger than it was 10 years ago, the footprint is smaller per capita," Mathis Wackernagel, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of the Global Footprint Network tells mbg. The four major areas that the Network have identified as contributing to this global footprint are urban sprawl and transportation, electricity generation, food, and family planning and overall population.

In order to keep Earth Overshoot Day day from arriving any earlier come 2018, we all need to take actions that reduce our strain in these key categories. Here are some top tips on how to do so, straight from mbg's climate experts:

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1. Start small but dream bigger.

No matter who you are or what your background is, you can use your individual talents and perspectives to raise awareness or drive change. If you’re someone in a public position, use your voice to raise awareness; if you’re a journalist, write about the issues; if you’re in the fashion realm, push for the use of more sustainable materials. As consumers, we each have the individual power to create change. Small actions such as saying no to single-use plastics such as plastic straws (we use them for only three minutes, but they’ll outlive our great-grandchildren on this earth) is a great way to start.

Oceanic Global founder Lea d'Auriol in a piece on ocean conservation efforts

2. Make it easy to shop green.

Nowadays, I make sure I always have some reusable bags stashed away—in my car trunk, in my handbag, right next to my front door. If you store them in these places, they’ll always be handy when you go for a quick trip to the grocery store. Cotton, canvas, or hemp bags will actually break down in the landfill (unlike nylon and synthetic materials). You can also bring your own refillable glass jars to buy bulk items like dried fruit and nuts.

Common Good founder Sacha Dunn in her guide on how to cut down on plastic consumption

3. Forge your own personal connection to nature.

The work you do in the service of protection or restoration of the waterways is not going to get you very far unless you feel strongly about it. So I would say the first step is to start finding a way to use and enjoy the water around you, whether it's kayaking, boating, creating art of the river, swimming, or fishing. If you can start feeling the ways that water nourishes you, you'll become naturally curious about what efforts are being taken to protect and restore it. So stand up, go outside, get wet, and see where that leads you.

Clean water advocate Christopher Swain in an interview on how we can all protect the world's natural resources

4. Pass the message along to the next generation.

I try to teach my kids about sustainability and sneak some mindful moments into their routines. For example, I use canvas envelopes instead of plastic bags for snacks and glass water bottles instead of plastic ones. We buy very little prepackaged food, which also helps. I’ve also taught the kids to turn lights off when they leave rooms and to conserve water when they’re in the bathroom. This isn’t an instinct they’re born with!

Ethical fashion designer Jenni Kayne in this diary of her green living routine at home

5. Make the easy fixes first.

It's a little-known fact that many utility companies actually allow customers to choose the source of their energy supply (yes, really!). With a quick call, you could switch from "traditional" energy generation to 100 percent renewable power. Take a few minutes to research your electricity provider's website, or give them a call to see if this is an option for you.

—Brittany Wienke of the Rainforest Alliance in her piece on five-minute climate actions

6. Consider your life in big-picture terms.

Sometimes I'll be driving in my car, but then I'll start to imagine what the city looks like from above, and the state, and the country, and the continent, and the world. And I'll also zoom out temporally and consider a long timeline. I'll remember that every action I take, every word I say, doesn't just affect the next few minutes of my life. Everything has an effect on the overall trajectory of our world. Living with this constant awareness that there's something bigger happening is incredibly game-changing.

Astronaut Ron Garan in an account of how traveling to space led him to a more conscious life here on Earth

7. Find an organization you believe in and give what you can.

Many nonprofits are set up to support sustaining or recurring donations in which you commit to giving on a monthly or quarterly basis. This kind of consistent giving, even in small amounts, makes a huge difference for nonprofits, as it represents steady and reliable cash flow. It can also be great for you, as it enables you to give more over time than you can at any one moment.

1 Percent for the Planet CEO Kate Williams in her piece on successful environmental gifting

8. Stay hopeful.

Rather than despairing about what is going wrong in our world, I feel empowered and positive. We can all do something in our little part of the world every day to inspire the change we wish to see. Positive actions count, no matter how big or small.

—Tracey Bailey describing her journey to open the world's first zero-waste lifestyle store

Check out the most effective green pledges you can make here, and find out when your own Earth Overshoot Day would fall with this nifty calculator.


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