PARIS — Wednesday will mark "Earth Overshoot Day," the moment when humanity uses more of the Earth's ecological resources than the planet can regenerate in a year. This awkwardly named annual event, first conceived by the UK think tank New Economics Foundation in 2006, is a way to track the accumulating effects of climate change. And indeed, the day comes a little bit earlier each year. Just five years ago, the globe observed it 10 days later, on Aug. 12 — a clear sign that the human race is living beyond its environmentally-sustainable means.
The increased interest in the event this year probably has something to do with President Donald Trump's decision to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, highlighting how easy it is for even the hardest-won efforts to protect the planet to be reversed by the whims of politics.
Let down by political leaders, many ecologically-conscious global citizens are returning to individual and small-scale efforts to lighten the world's carbon footprint. The environmentalist's mantra of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is back in vogue at the same time that the digital economy fuels a new acceleration of global consumerism.
Amazon wiped out the very notion of periphery.
Writing in The Guardian, Martin Lukacs recalls an email he received that listed 30 suggestions for "greening" an office. Use reusable pens. Stop using the elevator. Purchase eco-friendly appliances. It's a tedious list of oft-forgotten strategies which, while thoughtful, never really asks its recipient to consume less, but rather to consume differently.
The ease with which the globalized world can now access and obtain goods and services is quite staggering. But columnist João Pereira Coutinho, writing in the Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo, lauds the pace of consumer-driven innovation, singling out Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for particular praise.
Capitalism, Pereira Coutinho argues, is ultimately a democratizing force more powerful than government itself. "Amazon wiped out the very notion of periphery," he writes. It is true that a growing majority of the world's inhabitants can now theoretically "acquire" infinite knowledge (and yes, goods and services, too) by way of digital commerce and delivery.
Still, business left to its own devices tends to err on the side of short-term profit, just as politics inevitably is driven by the next election cycle. That leaves we the people, so often reduced to mere subjects of governments and corporations, to save our planet. Could greening our consumption habits help us save the planet? The likes of Amazon give us ever easier access to these new eco-friendly goods and services to help reduce our carbon footprints. Yet it all seems to feed our growing appetites for consuming as an end in itself. Truly, when it comes to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," the first "R" may be the hardest change to make.