Making Earth Day Every Day
In 2018, the United States’ national Earth Overshoot Day occurred on March 15th. This means that if the entire globe consumed natural resources at the rate of the United States, humanity would surpass Earth’s capacity to sustain us halfway through March, the third month of the year. Only five other countries preceded the US: Qatar (February 9th), Luxembourg (February 19th), the United Arab Emigrates (March 4th), Mongolia (March 6th), and Bahrain (March 12th). Thanks to countries consuming less than us, humanity’s overall Earth Overshoot Day wasn’t until August 1st last year—still the earliest on record.
With tools like the Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint Calculator, we can estimate our own personal consumer habits’ relationship to Earth’s biocapacity to sustain us. At present, my own overshoot day is October 19th, meaning my habits require 1.3 Earths every year. As useful as tools like these can be, they leave a couple issues open-ended. First, despite its more universal-sounding name, the calculator is primarily looking at carbon dioxide. This leaves aside footprints of fresh water use and other greenhouse gas emissions, like methane and nitrous oxide which have significantly greater impact on the planet.
Second, there is the complex calculus of social ecological responsibility. Not all ‘choices’ we make are choices we would choose if we weren’t pressured into them by our economic conditions. For instance, keeping cell phones, making long work commutes in fuel-inefficient cars, acquiring disposable and constantly changing fashion, and consuming diets based on availability and affordability are all ecologically destructive choices people derive from the limits to their economic power, not an innate desire to destroy the planet. Self-preservation overrides Earth preservation.
This issue falls into a hot topic for debate among activists of all kinds, that is, how much of our world’s problems are individual vs. collective or institutional in nature?
It Starts Above Us
Leaving aside metaphysical questions of choosing to be born in this era, none of us chose to be born into the system that is. We didn’t choose to be born into food deserts or poverty. We didn’t choose to be born into nations which spend inconceivable amounts of money on war and other infrastructures of violence and oppression. We didn’t choose to be born into economies where an active social media presence can be the difference between affording medical help, gaining employment, and having some semblance of community in an isolating world, or making do without all these things.
The problem is not that we are individually ‘choosing’ ecologically destructive products or behaviors. It’s that we live in a society that presents these choices to us, necessitates ‘choosing’ them, and in doing so, shifts the blame and responsibility for their ecological impact down onto us. If we had truly free choice in the matter, I imagine most of us would rather re-work the entire institutional reality we are born into than choose between a handful of options, all of which we hate.
For reasons like these, many activists frame humanity’s destruction of Earth as an impersonal, institutional or high-level problem. The real culprits are capitalism, nationalism, unregulated industries, and the like. These giants are older and possess tremendous world-shaping power that we lack as individual economic actors on their playing field, but can begin to tackle by working together. In essence, our problems require collective—not personal—action.
It Ends With Us
But collective action necessitates individual engagement. ‘Focus on capitalism’ and other mantras of the new left mean nothing if not translated through our actions in one form or another. How do we focus on capitalism? Do we boycott certain industries (or all industries)? Do we riot, strike, or shut-down traffic for our cause? Push for democratic socialism through electoral campaigns? Divest from civilization to the fullest extent that we can, live more directly in relationship to the planet, and teach others how to do the same?
Our solutions are myriad because our economic conditions are too. This, I believe, is an area all activists could devote a bit of time to better understanding. What I am able to do is not necessarily the same that you are able to, and vice versa. Our power as a collective of individual economic actors is less to be found in ideological or behavioral uniformity, and more to be found in mirroring the intrinsic synergy of an ecosystem.
This is not to say that all individual behaviors should be insulated from critique or challenge because of an economic moral relativism. Rather, I mean to say that every one of us should be doing all that we can, and on that personal level, we are each responsible or complicit. Collective power describes the might of these personal changes—whatever they are—taken together, not somehow independent and disconnected from what we as individuals contribute.
Make a List, Start With Something Easy
For me, I make Earth Day every day beginning with what I eat. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is one way that many of us can immediately contribute to the health of the planet through decreasing our greenhouse gas footprint, fresh water use, and colonization of wild lands.
In addition to practicing veganism, I am in an ongoing relationship to my backyard and surrounding land to localize as much of my food, medicines, fibers, inks and dyes, and other natural resource needs as possible. My goal is to grow 80% of my diet during the growing season by 2021. The Drawdown plan identifies better management of refrigeration for food transport as part of the number one way to reduce our CO2 emissions. But localizing food also brings us into contact with soil health, pollinator and native ecosystem preservation, and combating food desertification and insecurity in our communities too. Inside my house, I’m obsessively mindful of electricity use, especially when it comes to climate control. And I’ve been trying for the last two years to get serious about producing zero trash (my record right now is one bag over eight weeks). All of these are areas I strive to improve in.
These might be strategies you yourself engage in too, or options that can’t work for you right now for whatever reason. If the timeline proposed by some climate scientists holds true—that is, that the next couple decades are crucial in determining what our planet’s future looks like—it seems wise to me that we spend as much of this time as possible challenging ourselves to do as much as we can. The most important polemic of this day is perhaps not over ideological disagreements or political stances, but whether we are each—in the ways available to us—contributing what we are able towards the sustainability of the planet.
What are you doing for Earth? How can I better enable you to do more? From my perspective, these are two of the most important questions our ecological activism must ask and answer. Earth needs us to act every day of the year. And all our slogans and philosophies about how will be meaningless if we are not leaders in acting more than theorizing, enabling more than criticizing.
Everyone knows that today’s institutional reality is out of alignment with both us and our planet. What will we individually choose to do about it?
This essay appears as part of the Deepening Resilience community blog project. Project coordinator Syren Nagakyrie and the project’s contributors are creating conversation on climate change and human responses to the issues our ecological crisis raises. Learn more or even submit your own thoughts at the blog project’s home page or Facebook group page.
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Pat Mosley (LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage therapist and life coach in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His work is especially focused on creating permaculture in his community, which sometimes looks like providing bodywork, and other times looks like writing or designing gardens for people and bees.
Get connected with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org