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Children look over a beautiful planet

Top 10 Ways to Delay Earth Overshoot Day

For the rest of the year, humanity will be trashing the planet. That’s right, today is Earth Overshoot Day. Scientists at Global Footprint Network calculate that as of today, we’ve burned through the natural resources it would take a year for the Earth to replenish. For the next 4 months and 22 days, we’ll be chipping away at the long-term resilience of our life-supporting ecosystems.

Leave our children a world worth inheriting!

Leave our children a world worth inheriting!

If we were just barely living sustainably, we’d hit Earth Overshoot Day on December 31. That would mean we’re mining, fishing, logging, farming, burning and emitting no faster than the planet can clean up behind us. This is what we owe to our children and future generations – to leave them a world worth inheriting. The first year Earth Overshoot Day was observed was 1987. Back then, we made it all the way to December 19 before we began overdrafting our natural resources account.

You can read all about this at Global Footprint Network. You can also take an Earth Overshoot Day pledge or two over there. However, to be honest, those pledges are nothing more than a little symbolism. And I do mean little. I truly appreciate the work of Global Footprint Network, but I am unimpressed with these pledges. I think we can ask more of ourselves. If we really want to push Earth Overshoot Day back to where it belongs – December 31, this is going to be adult swim. It’s no place for candy-ass one-day gestures and then go back to our piggish ways.

I’m going to offer, instead, some meaningful changes you can make over the long haul that represent a more rational response to the news that we are chewing up the planet. If, like me, you’re concerned about the myriad crises created by our huge footprint, crises which truly threaten our future (not to mention our present), you can sit around, waiting for world leaders to change public policy, or you can join the growing number of world citizens changing their own lives and leading the charge toward more sustainable living.

So here’s my Top Ten list of things every family can do. If some of these seem small and insignificant, that means it is NOT too much to expect of ourselves. And multiplied by hundreds of millions of families, they will make a noticeable, meaningful change in our collective footprint.

10. OBSESS over energy use at home.
At our house we consider it a challenge – and our duty as world citizens – to waste not a single watt of electricity. It’s become a habit to light only the room we are in at night. We don’t operate our electric garage door opener unless it’s essential (we don’t pull the car into the garage if it’s going back out; we don’t open that huge door just to walk out into the driveway, etc.). We don’t own an electric can opener; we always unplug cell phone chargers and kill electricity to laptop AC adaptors when not in use. Computers are not left on overnight. The TV is only on if we’re watching. We turn down the hot water heater if we’ll be gone more than a day. A celling fan runs only when we’re in the room and need the cooling effect. No air conditioning for us – we open up the house at night to cool it down, and then close windows in the morning as it heats up. In the winter our thermostat is set back to 60 degrees F overnight. Porch lights are not left on overnight. We’re also slowly replacing all our light bulbs with energy-saving LEDs.

9. Don’t toss it, repair it.
Buy durable, quality products that last. Throwing things away and manufacturing replacements is energy and resource-intensive.

8. Lose the paper.
When we must print something, we print on both sides of the page. We have a stack of previously used paper with a blank side, and we print on that when we just have a page to print. Don’t reach for that paper towel. Use rags instead. That’s a good use for clothes that after a long life are finally too worn or ripped to wear, and they can be reused over and over again instead of paper towels. We do have a roll of paper towels at our house, but it takes us a year to go through it. Paper napkins? Never used at our house; we’ve gotten into the habit of using reusable cloth napkins.

7. Buy local (but know when to order on the internet).
Buy locally anything you can find that is made locally. That item hasn’t been flown across the country to get to you, and that supports a healthy local economy. It supports local jobs and local merchants. For items that aren’t made locally, it’s still helpful to buy them locally – unless you’re hopping in the car and making a trip just to buy one or two items. In cases like that, it turns out it’s actually less energy and carbon intensive to resort to mail order.

6. Eat local.
You’ve probably heard the average food item has traveled 1500 miles to get to your supermarket. Transporting that food burns fossil fuels and contributes to the disruption of our climate. Buy as much of your food as possible from local farms and urban farmers. Support farmers who are not excessively mechanized (burning even more oil) and are doing their best to avoid pesticides and fossil-fuel based fertilizers. Organic or naturally grown is good. Join a CSA. Shop at the farmer’s market.

5. Eat more veggies.
By now you’ve probably heard just how water, energy and land intensive most livestock operations are. None of us need to eat meat every day. At our house we’ve cut back to about two meals a week containing meat. And we’ve shrunk the serving size. You can go further if you’re so inspired. Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are significantly lighter on the planet.

4. De-carbonize your electricity supply.
There are several ways you can do this: 1) Install solar panels on your roof 2) Subscribe to a “solar garden” in your community or 3) Subscribe to solar or wind power through your electric utility. Our goal here is to shrink or eliminate demand for coal-generated power, and eventually do the same for burning natural gas to generate our electricity.

3. Leave your car in the garage.
Get on your bike, your feet, or the local transit system. While you’re at it, try to stay off airplanes as much as possible.

2. Right-size your houseprint (and lose the vacation home).
Is your house bigger than you need? Move to a smaller one so you aren’t heating or cooling excess space. Do you have a vacation home that sits empty much of the time? The energy to heat and cool is a factor, as is the embedded energy in creating two (or more) houses for one family. It’s lighter on the planet to rent a vacation spot for the weeks you will use it.

1. Conceive no children (or at most one).
If you do nothing else on the list, please do this one. There are nearly 7.25 billion of us on the planet today, consuming resources and emitting carbon. Scientific study tells us that with this population we all have to do much more than items 2 through 10 to move Earth Overshoot Day back to December 31. Analysis has also determined that item 1 will do more to shrink our footprint than all the other items on this list. Please make this your top consideration when planning a family. (Get your Small Family sticker here) The global average fertility rate is 2.5. If we could snap our fingers and make that number 1.0 today and keep it there, instead of a world population in 2100 of 11 billion we would be approaching 2 billion! Scientists tell us that 2 billion of us can live modest, but comfortable lifestyles and nail that December 31 date.

Some of these items require a one-time decision; others require us to change our daily behavior. Trust me when I tell you it doesn’t take long to turn these into habits. It’s not hard, and it becomes automatic. These are things we can do regardless of who is in the White House or Congress or Parliament. Imagine the difference we can make if the most comfortable billion people on the planet decide to get serious about moving Earth Overshoot Day back to December 31. Let’s get busy!

Dave Gardner
Filmmaker and GrowthBuster

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Comments (2)

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    This week marked Earth Overshoot Day 2016, and Nicky Chambers has written our second thought piece inspired by this day


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    Holger Wendt


    Thank you Dave.
    Overshoot Day is something super important to be aware of, and the steps to delay that day until it’s part of our history is crucial to or grandchildren. I’ve been here once before, in the 70’s when we were about to bomb ourselves into small bits of radioactivity. A small child I cared for and the probable future for her made me engage in a global project. Now I’m here again and the “petty” things like my private financial problems (not good at making money) becomes non-important. Thank you for the outline of 10 steps, of which we’ve taken many already. I wonder if you know of a global project that could target and measure the crucial steps towards a Delay of Overshoot Day? Warm regards from Sweden. Holger Wendt


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