Today is a very important day for our little blue and green marble. So important, it’s been given a name – a name that many of us have never even heard of. Today, August 21st, 2010 is “Earth Overshoot Day” (a.k.a. Ecological Debt Day). What exactly does that mean? Well, basically it means we’ve pretty much used up all the resources that the Earth can give us for this year. Yep. Shut her down, we’re done. No more resources to go ’round. Apparently we’re no better at sticking to an ecological budget than we are at minding the national debt. No big surprise there.
Did you even know there was an ecological budget? I didn’t get the memo, and I’m not sure what my allowance was for the year but I’m pretty sure I blew it just like the majority of my fellow Earth-Dwellers. So, let’s take a look at this whole Earth Overshoot, Ecological Debt ball of wax, learn something from it, and see what we can do about it. I don’t know ’bout you but I think it’d kind of suck if I woke up in the morning and the planet had been closed due to lack of resources. I bet your Mama never told ya there’d be days like this…
Ok, So What’s This “Earth Overshoot” Day??
You know I don’t like complicated technical mumbo-jumbo, so I’m going to try to boil this whole thing down and serve it up in a nutshell.
For most of human history, we’ve been able to live off of nature’s supply. That is, consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year. All was good.
But about 30 years ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for the planet’s resources began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them. This gap between demand and supply – called “ecological overshoot” has grown steadily each year. Not so good.
As of today, we are officially asking for too much. Any resources we use for the rest of the year adds to the ecological debt. What’s worse is that this “overshoot day” has been coming earlier each year. In 1987 it happened on December 19th. By 2007, we were creating ecological debt in September. This year, we’ve reached Overshoot Day a month earlier than we did last year. Bad Earthlings.
Oh Yeah? Who Says?
Somebody has to keep track of this “ecological budget” so we can all know the exact date on which we’ve screwed up beyond repair. For that we can thank the New Economics Foundation and the Global Footprint Network. They figure out all the math and complicated stuff so I don’t have to. I’m not going to rehash all their info here because they’ve already said it much better than I could. It’s interesting reading, though so I recommend checking out their websites. Global Footprint Network’s most recent data show that it takes one year and five months to generate the ecological services (production of resources and absorption of CO2) that humanity requires in one year.
“If you spent your entire annual income in nine months, you would probably be extremely concerned,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. “The situation is no less dire when it comes to our ecological budget. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages — these are all clear signs that we can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing.
So, What Are We Supposed to Do About it?
You know how you have a limit on your credit card, and when you “accidentally” exceed that limit, you can call up the nice folks at the credit card company and ask for an increase and they’ll probably give you one because they want to charge you more interest? Well, ecological debt doesn’t exactly work that way. And we can’t file bankruptcy and wipe the slate clean. No do-overs. Where does that leave us? Well, first of all, we’re talking about a GLOBAL crisis here, so don’t freak out thinking we’re in this mess all because you failed to recycle 13 of your plastic bottles this year. One person didn’t create this problem, and one person is not going to fix it. What we can do is start making changes in our own little corner of the planet so that we individually contribute less to this ecological debt. Part of the equation for figuring out the ecological debt is figuring out how much the inhabitants of Earth use (demand). Your personal demand adds to that number.
By starting with the basics (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), you can do your part to reduce the demand on Earth’s resources. A good place to start is to head over to Global Footprint Network and figure out your personal footprint. Here are a few really painless ways to reduce your consumption of resources:
- Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving
- Turn off lights when you’re not in the room
- When your light bulbs burn out, replace them with a more energy-efficient CFL or LED bulb
- Reducing your shower time by 2 minutes can save up to 10 gallons of water each time you shower.
Living more eco friendly really doesn’t have to be so damned complicated! For more tips on how to do it the easy way, just sign up for the free newsletter and get subscriber-only content delivered right to your inbox. Just stick your name and email address in that big box in the sidebar. How easy is that?
Let’s Talk About It…
So, what 1 simple thing are you willing to do for the rest of the year to reduce your personal footprint? It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I’ll be discussing it with the hubby soon. I’m thinking about not using paper towels any more.