If I don’t have the newest iPhone, what will people think of me? Today in America, we are told that we are consumers first – not humans or citizens first, just consumers. Every day, when we scroll our apps or turn on the TV, we are bombarded with constant ads. Walking into a grocery store, we are reminded by signs and magazines of everything we don’t yet have, but supposedly need. We are programmed to work endlessly just to fill that gap to buy more useless items we most likely will dispose of in six months’ time. It’s an ideal partnership between our government and corporations: make citizens want to consume no matter what.
What happens when our demand for ecological resources cannot be met anymore?
Over the last 50 years, humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in any given year exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that year. Every year, we are growing that deficit from previous decades’ ever-increasing loss in resources. Industry turns ecological resources into profit, amasses waste, and pollutes our atmosphere with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Earth Overshoot Day calculates the precise date of that year when Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s ecological footprint. Every day after is overshoot, meaning continued use of resources that are not naturally available and can never be replenished. At the current rate of consumption, we would need 1.7 Earths each year to provide for our collective ecological footprint. If everyone lived like a resident of the United States, we would need 5 Earths to be able to support global consumption. In 1970, Earth Overshoot Day landed on December 30th, close to aligned with natural biocapacity. By 2000, it had moved all the way up to September 22nd. This year, Earth Day Overshoot falls on July 29th, 2021, a dangerous trajectory.
When I read these statistics, I felt as if I were drowning, one individual in a sea of things I cannot fix by myself. I find myself almost in a panic looking around my apartment, asking constant questions: “Did you really need to buy that?” “Will you even wear these clothes in a couple months?” I feel guilty for all of the times I bought just because I felt like it or thought it would make my living space or life seem more appealing. Sometimes I find myself relating consumption to happiness. I have to break free of that mindset after reading hard truths regarding the state of our planet. I can and do make more eco conscious choices, but I also have to remind myself that individuals are not at fault for mass overconsumption and industrial degradation. Of course we can (and should!) all make a difference by changing our own practices: stop buying single use products, aim for reusable options, buy second hand, walk instead of drive, flip the switch. But these choices alone are not enough.
Ultimately, humanity, government and industry have to work together to make changes and we, the people, must use our voices to legally protect resources from devastation and liquidation. The Earth Overshoot Day website lists solutions to help turn around natural resource consumption trends. Possibilities include creating and providing access to safe, affordable, sustainable transportation systems for all and asking governments to commit to reducing meat consumption by 50%. The #MoveTheDate campaign focuses on solutions to educate us on what we can do to push back Earth Overshoot Day, including composting, eating a plant based diet, and writing letters to local officials to enact policies that lead to a more sustainable environment.
To improve the quality of life for all living beings, now and for generations to come, we must capture this moment to make a positive impact. Let your voice be heard. A single voice can turn into a crowd and together we can demand change. As interns at Turning Green, we are committed to educating student leaders globally on how to build a more sustainable and just world. Together we can create a society where we put living beings and the health of our planet first — and live in line with what our one Earth can provide. We are not mere consumers; we are humans first.