Thinking about earth overshoot day
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to be born,
May all beings be at …..
How do you think that sentence should end?
Earth Overshoot Day has really gotten me thinking. At Population Media Center, we use transformative storytelling, a scientifically tested theory of change, and well-known social and behavioral change theories to change attitudes and behaviors across the world. I find myself thinking about that always challenging “behavior change” and how we can change behavior for the collective good in three different spheres:
- My own behavior and my own actions
- Governments and corporations
- The work we do at PMC
Why is changing behavior so important? Because we don’t survive without it.
Earth overshoot day
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year. This year, that date is July 28, 2022. Meaning as of today, we have used a year’s worth of biological resources — and we still have five months to go in the calendar year. It’s obvious that we cannot continue to consume at this rate and, unfortunately, Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier and earlier each year.
MY OWN BEHAVIOR AND MY OWN ACTIONS
For me, it was hard thinking about what I need to do to address my part in this.
Living in a society where capitalism reigns and extractive institutions are part of your daily life makes it impossible not to be part of the problem. The problem, for me, is blaming society and blaming the way we participate in it and not taking the time to figure out how I can do better.
I recently got to see live music for one of the first times since the pandemic started – needless to say, I was immediately enthralled by the experience. Music flowing from the speakers, hands clapping in unison, and the feeling of communal joy all vibrated throughout the stadium. It was joyful. When the lights came on to illuminate the stadium, I noticed something else entirely. It was distressing.
Scattered along the floor were thousands of aluminum beer cans, plastic water bottles, tin hotdog wrappers, and other mementos from the concert. I cringed. That image continues to implant itself in my mind. I have been thinking about the gas I used to make that trip, the food I eat, and all the ways in which I participate in making Earth Overshoot Day a reality.
I am proud of some of my choices, and I also know I still have a lot of work to do. A lot of behaviors to change. I support reproductive rights; I am vegan; I have worked on legislation mandating carbon free power; I recycle; I don’t leave trash on the floors of stadiums. I also know as we mark this non-celebratory date, I must examine how I can change my behavior. I also know examination and reflection isn’t enough. I need to go back to the basics and implement change in my life in the very ways I want the world to change.
And I also know that I cannot create a sustainable world on my own. The problem is systemic in nature.
Governments and corporations
To get to that stadium to see one of my favorite bands, I had to drive to Denver. Driving through New Mexico, I immediately got lost in the rolling plateaus, cows and horses, and found solace in the landscapes and creatures of the Southwest. Then, as we drove through Pueblo, Colorado, I was struck by the stark juxtaposition of windmills spinning in the foreground while a coal plant spewed its fumes into the atmosphere in the background. The insanely large industrial machines extracted resources from the earth, showing in one line of sight what we can do and what we are doing. How far we have come – and how far we have to go.
The truth is, we live within systems. OvershootDay.org says, “Individuals have the power to better their homes and communities. The greatest potential for large-scale impact, however, lies with governments and businesses who align their policies and strategies with the reality of our finite planet.” They are right. We cannot blame individuals, though we must empower individuals with knowledge and agency to push for the change we need. Governments and corporations have powerful, vested interests. Change, especially change that impacts short-term financial gain, comes hard-fought. Yes, even if that change is needed for our species to survive.
It will take many of us – powerful, invested, and loud – to drive large-scale impact.
The work we do at PMC
I take solace in knowing PMC has the tools, resources, methods, people, and power to create large-scale impact. If you aren’t familiar with the methods we use, the stories we tell, and the impact we have – I humbly suggest you check out our website. I think you will find some solace too, and maybe even find ways to support our work.
Population Media Center addresses many of these complicated components thoughtfully and successfully. It could be a top 5 Hulu and Emmy nominated show that worked with adolescent sexual and reproductive health organizations to empower millions of viewers to access reproductive health resources. It could be a radio show in the Democratic Republic of Congo which inspired hundreds of thousands of Congolese listeners to make more equitable and sustainable choices across local conservation efforts in partnership with the Jane Goodall Foundation or increased agency to utilize family planning and post-natal healthcare. And PMC will continue to work on addressing complex issues, through transformative stories, to transform the world.
We do this because we are keenly aware of how these convergent issues all go hand in hand in addressing the issues related to Earth Overshoot Day.
We also know that being aware that a problem exists isn’t enough to solve any problem – let alone the difficult ones we hope to solve by working together. We stand together, and extend a hand to those who need one, because that is the way PMC approaches global sustainability and human rights.
I know as a consumer, as a person who eats, travels, and enjoys things like concerts, I can’t just see the bottles scattered across the floor and do nothing. I know as a person who is part of a larger system, I can’t just see the coal plants polluting our air and hope someone else will drum up the people power that forces policies and regulations that create change. I am needed across many fronts.
How will you change your behavior? How can you support PMC in addressing large scale behavioral changes to support a better world, for everyone? That sentence ended when it was written by saying “May all beings be at ease”. It was written over 1500 years ago, but the only way for that to come true today, or in the future, is by transformative change.
Let’s commit to change ourselves and change our world, together, as we reflect about Earth Overshoot Day.