Happy Earth Overshoot Day 2013
By Mai Kuha
It has happened to many of us at some point: “too much month left at the end of the money”. And when it happens, we get serious about economizing: get back to basics, make do with less, rediscover the difference between needs and wants.
What would you say to people who keep having more and more month left at the end of their money, and yet keep spending more and more instead of living within their means, and just keep borrowing from their child’s college fund and from their retirement savings?
Well, it turns out that this is pretty much what all of us, collectively, are doing with the planet. Every year, we have too much year left at the end of the resources.
Consider the total amount of resources that the Earth can replenish in one year. Obviously, that’s the maximum that we should use in a year, but instead we gobble up a year’s worth and then keep gobbling. The estimated point in time when we “bust our ecological budget” is what the Global Footprint Network calls “Earth Overshoot Day”
Just how irresponsible are we? In 2012, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 22. This is staggering: we had consumed the resources budgeted for 2012 when more than a third of the year was still left. That’s the equivalent of depleting each month’s income around the 19th of the month.
But wait – it gets even more embarrassing: compared with developing countries, industrialized countries are engaging in this “deficit spending” to a jaw-dropping degree. If the whole world consumed as much as we in the U.S. do, we would need 4.16 Earths to meet the global population’s needs.
Earth Overshoot Day tends to fall a few days earlier each year, so we have probably reached the 2013 date already. Now is the time of the year when we either stop making things, going places, and taking showers – or start dipping into resources that belong to the future.
What happens if we keep up this deficit spending? The Global Footprint Network’s grim list includes climate change, shrinking forests, and species loss. Climate change is already evident in more extreme weather patterns. Extreme weather threatens our food supply, and, together with rising sea levels, will produce refugees in unprecedented numbers.
What can we do? We have been sold the idea that changing our individual consumption behaviors is the solution: recycle, carpool, change your lightbulbs. Doing these things is important, but the magnitude of the problem urgently requires change beyond the individual, change in the way corporations and the rest of the power structure interact with us and with the natural environment. Let’s engage with the climate crisis conversation at the regional and national level.
Mai Kuha helps organize the Living Lightly Fair, has published articles on ecolinguistics, and recently completed the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Chicago. She has lived in Muncie since 1999.