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Living Within Our Means

According to the Global Footprint Network calculations, we took only nine months to exhaust the ecological budget for the year. On August 21st we reached the Earth Overshoot Day, or in other words, the day of the year where our demand on the biosphere exceeds what it can regenerate. Already on the 8th month of the year, we have maximised all the ecological services that nature can regenerate this year. What do we do for the other four months? Well, for the rest of the year we will meet our demand by depleting resource stocks and accumulating waste materials faster than they can be absorbed or recycled.

Applying this global situation to a financial scenario may shed some light on our actions. If we have spent our annual income in the first eight months, we might reach for a credit card or a bank loan - although even this brought us to one of the biggest economic crises. But unlike our financial institutions, nature does not operate with credit cards or loans. Instead, the Earth Overshoot Day occurred even earlier this year than in 2009, and is estimated to come a month early each year.

How big is humanity's total Ecological Footprint? According to moderate UN scenarios, we use the equivalent of 1.5 planets to generate the resources and absorb our waste, and if these trends continue we will need the equivalent of two Earths by the year 2030. You can calculate your own Ecological Footprint and learn what you can do to reduce it. In addition to changes implemented by each individual person, the Global Footprint Network is dedicated to addressing the problem of overshoot with governments and decision-makers at all levels.

The good news is that much of the technology to address the challenges of our lavish living habits in the West is available today - from using public transportation and organic farming to energy-efficient houses and compact urban design. However, calculations show pressure on ecological resources will continue to rise due to continued population growth and so increase in consumption. Perhaps living within our means is the wisest precaution. While science can present us with several scenarios based on years of research and better knowledge, the indigenous societies demonstrate their wisdom that has been passed for hundreds of years. They knew as we know today that everything in nature is connected and humans are part of that network.