Earth Overshoot Day

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Have you heard of the concept Earth Overshoot Day? Basically, it’s the day when we have used up nature’s budget for the entire year. This year we managed to spend what the Earth can support in a year on August 13th.  The last time humanity’s use of resources balanced with what the Earth could support was in the 1970s. Each year we have gotten a few days farther away from sustainability. This fact was very sobering, and I also realized that most of the young people in the Western world do not know what it was like to live at a time when things were more in balance. I was born in 1969 and I feel like the formative experiences of growing up without what the current world feels is “normal” really helps me find this rationing experiment kinda sorta … not a big deal!

Let me reminisce a little about how things were in the 1970s for my family…

  • We ate at home, except on Easter (sometimes. Occasionally we ate that meal at home too). All holidays and birthdays were at our home, or family and friends’ homes. Socializing was visits to other people’s homes or people came over to our house. Fast food was not an option either — I had my first McDonald’s when I was 16 years old! I will not be embarrassed to say that I lived at home for most of college, and my grandmother still packed my lunch every day (!) (But I also started college when I was 16 so I was just a baby still 😉
  • Cooking from scratch was also an everyday occurrence. I remember once my grandmother and I went to visit her sister as I was getting older (I must have been around 10) and she saw her using instant mashed potatoes. She said, “Rosie! How could you possibly be that lazy!” and they got in a huge fight. They didn’t speak for two weeks. This left a HUGE impression on me, and I never used them. I recently had a bread recipe that called for them, and I was afraid to buy them! (I’ve since learned that you can use potato flour so I need not feel my grandmother’s wrath from the Great Beyond).
  • We shopped for food in our neighborhood. There was the Italian bakery for bread, and the Jewish bakery for bagels, and the grocery store for food, and the deli for deli, the butcher for meat, etc.
  • We shopped for my clothing 1 time a year — the late summer for “back to school.” I also received gifts of clothing for Christmas and my birthday. Shops were local, and I never entered a mall until I was a teenager (and didn’t like them when I finally did. Bleah!)!
  • My clothes got mended, and when they were no longer acceptable to be worn in public, they became dusting rags. Shoes were shined, and when they couldn’t be salvaged for every day, they became slippers or hanging around shoes.
  • We were walkers and public transportation takers. I and my grandmother (and all of her sisters) never learned to drive. I remember my grandmother getting me a kiddie pool on our main shopping street (7th Street) and carrying it on her back home to 10th Street! I think she even managed to somehow hold my hand.
  • DIY! My grandfather was a carpenter, and all of his friends were tradesmen. If something broke in the house, my grandfather either made a repair or helped his friend make a repair. It went both ways — my grandfather, when not at work, was constantly hanging doors, installing kitchen cabinets, and making radiator covers for friends and family!

Doesn’t all this sound extremely familiar as things people are encouraged to do to green up their lives now in 2015? I’m so glad that these are second nature for me. It now makes sense that even when my husband and I moved from the city (he is almost two years older than me and grew up 3 blocks away from me, so we share much of the same cultural upbringing), we chose a walkable town that has a great public transit system and loads of little stores to get our provisions from.

Thank you Grandmom and Grandpop!

This is not to say it was all good. Being so involved in our surrounding area made my grandparents less tolerant of diverse people.  They were not cultured, educated, or traveled. We didn’t go to museums or performances. Thankfully I transferred to the “smart kid” school outside my neighborhood in 5th grade and I was able to start getting those experiences. It didn’t always make for peace in our household (what do you mean you want to have your (Not Italian) friend sleep over?! What do you mean you want to major in Art — you won’t get a job! OK you can do English – you can get a job with that!), but it made me into the person I am today. There’s a reason I love the word liminal.

image: from footprintnetwork.org — check out the whole site. Scary but necessary to know about.

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3 comments

  1. That’s a very sobering graph! Thanks for pointing out that Earth Overshoot Day has passed, and for the reminder that it’s easy to live more sustainably.

  2. I think your wee meander down memory lane sums up perfectly how it is possible to have a rich life without calling on the earth’s resources we collectively can ill afford.

    My childhood was similar. Clothes shopping was infrequent, foreign holidays not a given and fruit juice and fizzy drinks rare treats for birthdays and Christmas, but I can’t remember feeling hard done by. I remember looking forward to fortnightly trips, on foot or by bus, to the library; mum being able to buy us quality cotton underwear and woollen socks in a local shop; accompany mum to the cobblers and getting high on the smell of leather; and my siblings and I taking it in turns to return the empty bottles to the corner shop – the one who did got to keep the tuppence (or rather two Francs) they paid for each empty bottle. I also remember a home full of life and jollity rather than clutter!

    1. Yes – I should have also noted that I never felt or was deprived or anything like that. Although solidly working class, all needs were taken care of, I was never in fear of being hungry or not having heat or anything like that. Holidays truly felt like holidays, a shopping trip was a thrilling, big event, needs and frills were had 🙂 I was not alone in my house ever until I was a teenager — care and attention (maybe too much 😉 was paramount.

      We also only had soda in the house on holidays — I thought it was normal to only have a juice glass of soda — it IS probably normal to only have a juice glass of soda. Everything is out of proportion these days. Which is why we have overshot our balance by almost 5 months!

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