I hope it is safe to say that most people are aware of the demands that humans are putting on the resources of our planet, but the degree of these strains may surprise you. If everybody on the planet lived like me, under the same conditions as me, we would need 1.8 planets to support our needs. What is so surprising to me is that even though I live in a trailer home (less than 300ft2), use minimal energy, never to rarely spend on goods (got rid of most of my wardrobe and try to only buy second-hand if needed), wash my clothes by hand with cold water, have 4 minute cold water showers and recycle, I still overshoot it.
My results are from the test I passed from the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that uses UN statistics and other sources to calculate when overshoot day falls every year. What really gave me such a high score is my mobility: Due to the housing crisis, I had to relocate remotely where there is no transit so I have to drive to work. Communting isn’t much of an option there either. Plus I have this thing for travelling (locally and around the world). On the food consumption side, I strongy prefer vegetables and fish to meat. I never purchase meat, but I occasionally enjoy seafood. And the French Canadian in me has that thing for dairy: I don’t drink milk, but I do enjoy my cheeses. I guess 1.8 planets isn’t ideal, but it isn’t as alarming as the average Canadian: If everyone on Earth lived as Canadians do, it would take about 5.1 Earths (in 2017 – an increase from 2014’s 4.7 Earths) to sustain global consumption.
Where Do Canadians Stand?
The National Footprint Accounts 2018 Edition (Data Year 2014) report found that the average Canadian has the fifth largest ecological footprint in the world, behind the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Current analysis shows that on average the Canadian ecological footprint is 8.05 hectares. This indicates that it takes 8.05 hectares of land and sea throughout the world to support each Canadian. I feel a little relieved about my personal 3.1 hectares my test said I’d need to provide everything I consume, but there is still room to improve.
Internationally, ecological footprints in many other countries are much lower than Canada’s such as India at 1.12 hectares/person, Pakistan at 0.79 hectares/person and Japan at 4.74 hectares/person.
Earth Overshoot Day
In what marks the earliest Earth Overshoot Day yet, humanity has already used up more resources by August 1 than the Earth can regenerate this year, according to the Global Footprint Network. We were supposed to make it last until the end of December, but we just exhausted Earth’s total annual resource budget for 2018 in only 7 months. For 2018 it’s earlier than ever, a day earlier than in 2017, and earlier than ever before.
Unfortunately, we are not managing Earth’s ecosystem properly. As the global population grows and consumption rises, we are in a pattern of ‘ecological overspending’ due to deforestation, drought, freshwater scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, overpopulation and a host of other practices. According to the latest Living Planet Report, if we don’t dramatically change our lifestyles, we are headed toward a 67% decline by 2020.
What can you do to change your ecological footprint?
There are several steps you can take to reduce your individual ecological footprint:
- Buy more locally grown and organic food (Farmers’ Markets, Spud, Olives, and North Arm Farm are great choices in our area)
- Buy more unpackaged and unprocessed foods (Local Goods Company delivers a wide selection of local goods in reusable glass containers to your door)
- Eat vegetarian meals more frequently
- Drive your car less and carpool whenever possible
- If you drive, choose a more fuel efficient vehicle
- Use public transit, bike or walk whenever possible
- Hang clothes to dry – limit the number of loads of laundry that go in your dryer
- Reduce the number of days you use the air conditioner
- Practice water and energy conservation
- Turn off lights and use energy efficient bulbs and appliances
#MoveTheDate Towards Sustainability
According to the Global Footprint Network, if we moved Earth Overshoot Day back 4.5 days every year, we would return to using the resources of one planet by 2050.
“Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future,” explains Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network. “Ultimately, moving back the date of Earth Overshoot Day on the calendar is the name of the game.”
Many solutions exist in four major areas for improving sustainability: cities, energy, food, and population to #MoveTheDate:
Cities: If we reduce driving by 50% around the world and replace one-third of car miles with public transportation and the rest by walking and biking, we can #MoveTheDate of Overshoot Day back 12 days. Learn more here.
Energy: Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would #MoveTheDate 93 days. Learn more here.
Food: If everyone in the world cut food waste in half, reduced the Footprint intensity of their diets, and consumed world-average calories, we would #MoveTheDate 38 days. Learn more here.
Population: If every other family in the world had one less child, we would move Overshoot Day 30 days by 2050. Learn more here.
Everyday, everyone has an impact on the earth. The scale of our impact can quickly lead to an unsustainable balance between our demands on nature and its ability to provide us with the things we need to survive.
To reduce our ecological footprint our actions must address the sources of the biggest impacts we have on our planet. Protecting the environment and reducing the impact of our activities, such as changing the way we get around and the food we eat, could significantly reduce our footprint and move the date towards a more sustainable future. If enough individual action is taken and we all do our little bit of good, we can expect to observe measurable improvements in the global ecological footprint over time.