Today marks Overshoot Day – the moment in time when we (humans) have used up the annual natural capital the planet has to offer. From this day through the end of the year, we are operating in the red. This means we are fishing beyond our oceans’ limits, cutting more trees and clearing more woodland than our natural forests can provide, and drawing down on the water table more than rain can replenish, all the while increasing carbon and methane emissions. Simply put, our global demand is exceeding the planet’s supply.
So what can we do? The problem seems overwhelming and perhaps too large to resolve, but there are a package of solutions, each contributing to a healthier planet.
We need a more sustainable development model for the planet, in which renewable resources play a much greater role. As individuals this means we buy sustainably sourced products; as companies we analyze our supply chains and ensure they are responsibly managed; as governments we support and incentivize markets that invest in a green economy and lead to thriving and empowered local communities; and as nations we work together. We need to make sure that the decisions we make support positive action for human development, food security and addressing climate change. These issues are intrinsically connected – to address any of them successfully, we need to address all of them.
We also need to innovate change through technology, to maximize yield and discover resources that can be reused, over and over again. Some small communities in Alaska, such as Igiugig, are great examples of this kind of work, testing wind turbines, solar panels and in-water hydro as sources of renewable energy. They live off the land and all it has to offer for food and income, but they are facing the day-to-day consequences of record breaking temperatures, glacier retreat and sea ice melt. They are at the forefront of a changing climate and experiencing significant economic, environmental, social and personal cost.
One example of this cost is the price of fuel to keep warm in the cold polar climate. Imagine if half of your salary covers the cost of heating your home, where you are paying more than $8 per gallon to fuel your generator. Some communities are stepping forward and testing new approaches to meet their heating needs with wind and solar technology. Exploring cost-effective renewable energy and other measures like those outlined in the new strategy of the US government as Chair of the Arctic Council, demonstrate how all of us –from pole to pole – can help fight ecological overshoot.
There is a universe of things we can do that are helpful. With Overshoot Day occurring earlier and earlier each year we need to break the trend and invest in a much smaller number of actions that are essential to the health and well-being of our planet and people.