“There is immense power of possibility in the many existing solutions that are ready to be deployed at scale. With them, we can make ourselves more resilient and #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day.”
– Global Footprint Network
We want to act on climate — on Earth Day and everyday — but how and where do we begin? So much of the narrative about fighting climate change puts the pressure on individuals: turn off the water, shut the lights, cut down on driving, bring your own bag, so on and so forth. We are told that personal choices have an outsized impact on the planet, shaming and blaming people without recognizing that guilt does not solve climate change. While individual awareness, adjustments, and action are critical, transformational eco-social change requires more.
Think about the world around you. Friction arises from a constant desire for influence and power amid increasing scarcity. With limited resources, reducing consumption must happen not only on a personal level, but rather on a system-wide, mass, industrial global scale. While we look toward, demand and support innovations to ensure a clean, peaceful, equitable planet, we also remember that each of us can make a difference in our own right.
In the early 1990s, Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees coined the term “ecological footprint” as a simple metric that measures humanity’s demand on our planet’s ecosystems. Ecological footprints consider how much nature is available and the sum of those natural resources that we use. When an ecological footprint is larger than what ecosystems can regenerate, it is called ecological overshoot.
In the 2000s, the term “carbon footprint” – referring to the amount of greenhouse gasses created by human actions – was popularized by a successful advertising campaign from British Petroleum (BP), one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. BP crafted a narrative of individual responsibility for climate change, shifting focus and blame away from the corporations (including itself) and governments responsible for supporting, investing in and worsening greenhouse gas emissions.
So what “footprint” messaging should we listen to? Is it a corporate scheme to get us to stop thinking about the way that polluting industries continue to pollute? Or is it a helpful tool that allows us to see how unsustainable behaviors have become? The answer is a bit of both. Individual action alone is not enough to combat climate change or reverse ecological overshoot; we need to get big businesses and often neglectful governments on board. Yet, personal and collective environmental stewardship are very important steps towards climate mitigation. Leading a climate-conscious life means leading by example with simple meaningful steps, like those you will take all throughout this month of Project Green Challenge. That can have a profound impact on the behavior of those around you without the need to overtly pressure others with force or guilt.
Ditching single use bottles, bringing reusable bags, and making other tangible changes can be a gateway to deeper involvement in climate, social, health and political action or advocacy. Green habits can be contagious; if you install solar panels or drive an electric car, there’s an increased likelihood that your neighbors will do the same. Studies show that a committed minority of people making a change (about 25%) can create society-wide shifts. This is what’s known as a social tipping point, which can be instrumental in broad social transformation.
Why does this matter? The consequences of ecological overshoot are diverse and increasingly dire: unsustainable rates of deforestation when forests are cut down faster than they regrow, the collapse of ecosystems as resources are used and abused unsustainably, biodiversity loss, and soil degradation, and more, like those noted by our partner Global Footprint Network. But we all have the power to push for systemic change, reduce our negative impact on the environment and combat devastation caused by climate change!
Individuals have more power than you think. Recognize the power of our human handprint, which is used as a visual for the positive impact an individual can have upon the environment. Let’s make our mark for the better! By standing up, speaking out and living a values-aligned life, every one of us can be a leader for the world we wish to create.
When it comes to urging behavior change of polluting industries, we can begin by voting with our dollar. Some businesses have paved the way with eco-friendly products and lighter footprints; supporting these mission-aligned companies will demonstrate demand and lead to larger industry shifts in that direction. Businesses pay attention to market signals; what and how you purchase sends a direct message to companies and entire industries. If a large enough group flexes consumer power, it can force brands to alter decisions, sourcing, production and practices across the board.
Reducing our footprint is achieved by demonstrating to global governments, corporations, leaders and our peers that collective positive action is vital and possible. We do this with our dollars, choices, votes and voices. And by taking action in our daily lives — today, all throughout October with Project Green Challenge (students can sign up for the 30-day initiative today and join us this October!), and every single day.
Changes in daily habits and consumption patterns may seem insignificant in a world of nearly 8 billion, but every decision contributes to the well-being of humans, species and the Earth. What would our planet look like if we all consumed less and demanded ethical production?
Calculate your footprint using Global Footprint Network’s calculator.
Our ecological footprint is farway larger than the size of our foot. Everywhere we go and everything we do has an impact on both people and planet. Each year, the Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day, the date on which human demand for resources has exceeded what the Earth is able to regenerate in that calendar year. In 2022, Earth Overshoot Day was on July 28; the 2023 report will be released later this year. This date has fluctuated in the past 50 years, from December 29 in 1970 to August 22 in 2020.
2020 was a unique case. It was the first time the date was pushed up by 24 days, as the world had shut down due to the pandemic. With no travel, fossil fuel output and other human-caused pollutants decreased dramatically, providing a brief glimpse into how our planet could change rapidly for the better if we were to collectively commit to sweeping, urgent, meaningful environmental actions.
While knowing that multinational businesses, corporations, and countries must reduce emissions, consider how your individual behavior aligns with your goals for a greener planet.
Individual actions impact ecological footprints, but that is only one part of the problem. 25% of the world’s population consumes 75% of global resources. Such out-of-balance consumption cannot be reversed by personal action alone; leaders need to introduce, implement and enforce policies focused on equity and sustainability. Drivers of governments, businesses and institutions at every level have the power to create and mandate policies for a sustainable future. Given this, what do you think world leaders should do to act on climate?
First, watch this video from youth environmental activist, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, calling for environmental accountability from leaders.
Now, it’s time to get creative. Produce an informative and mobilizing call to action insisting that leaders enact policy to act on climate change. Incorporate facts, bold visuals, personal story and specific asks. Use whatever format you feel will be most impactful to convey your points and passion.
Share the call to action with relevant leaders by posting on social media and tagging their accounts, as well as sending to their emails. Use all platforms where you think the message will resonate; Twitter is often a strong outlet for political-oriented actions! Post it on Instagram and tag @TurningGreenOrg and #EarthDay, as well as the accounts of relevant political leaders.