Many of us have learned, as adults, the self-discipline often required to live within our means. If we make $100 per week, but spend $150, pretty soon we’ll be faced with a choice: stop spending and use the money to pay off the bills or continue to buy stuff we don’t need until our mountain of debt is too huge to address. That’s where bankruptcy courts come in and wipe away not only the debt, but the accumulated assets, as well as all the credit one had managed to accumulate. (Not an ideal solution.)

Now let’s apply that to our environment. We have one Earth, and that planet has a finite quantity of resources available to keep us fed, sheltered, and healthy. As long as we use restraint, we could manage to live here sustainably for many more generations.

A glittering display of gold jewelry behind a woman's arm that is festooned with gold bracelets.

But you see the problem in that last sentence, right? There’s that nasty word: restraint. Commercial media has drilled it into our heads for years now that there are certain keys to success in social circles, business advancement, lifestyle, whatever. 

  • Attract the perfect mate by wearing the latest fashion trends, the shiniest jewelry, the newest shoe styles.
  • Only the truly chic travel to exotic places and see rare sites and vistas. You can be part of that “in” crowd.
  • If you are truly successful, or want to be seen as such, you will drive the latest model car, purchase the latest iPhone/computer/tablet. Who cares if you need it? You deserve the best!

This constant programming is driving people to consume, consume, consume–buy, use, and throw away, only to buy bigger, better, badder, more. These behaviors, especially given our rising population numbers, drive wasteful societies, waste which is just as important, if not more so, than counting carbon emissions and working toward clean water. Because overshoot is going to use up our resources faster than the Earth’s ability to renew them.

What is “overshoot”? 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “overshoot” means to go past one’s target, especially due to moving too fast or being unable to stop. For decades, scientists have warned that we need to limit our climate’s temperature increase to 1.5°C in order to avoid irreversible impacts on our world’s inhabitants and their ecosystems. But 90% of climate models predict that we are going to exceed—“overshoot”—that limit. If that happens, we could spend decades at higher global temperatures before stabilizing at that 1.5°C goal.

But there is more than one way to apply Oxford’s definition in climate models.  According to many sources, overshoot occurs when the population of a species significantly exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment.” There is now an annual Earth Overshoot Day (EOD), which marks the date on which we have used up all the natural resources the Earth can naturally renew in a single year. The first EOD was December 30, 1970. Last year, it fell on August 2, 2023. This year? Projections point to the end of July. And that isn’t counting the resources used up between EOD and the end of the year, when we’ve conceivably bitten a big hunk out of next year’s “budget.”

A rich blue oceanic horizon, with a sliver of tropical island in the mid-ground. An enormous yacht sits in the water in the foreground.

The smart thing to do would be to live within our means, right? Just like maintaining expenditures within the family’s $100/week budget, without going over that amount. Instead, we’re spending $170+ per week, with no way to replenish the source fund. According to numerous sources, humanity’s ecological footprint is overshooting the Earth’s capacity to meet our demand. As we are now, it would take 1.5 to 1.7 Earths to “break even.” 

How long do we think that can go on? Because if we keep pulling resources from these biosystems at the current rate, their habitats will collapse, taking with them entire populations of lifeforms. And since those biomes exist in such a delicate balance and are so heavily dependent on all the life-forms found therein, without them there will be no renewal.

As far as overshooting our resources use, it’s worth noting that our non-stop, insatiable demand for products without concern for where or how they are produced is more of an issue than it might seem. Overuse of materials is the biggest concern, of course. But what about getting those products to our doors?

Carbon concerns for the shipping normally required to deliver said “treasures” is already bad enough. But now, with drought slashing trade passages through the Panama Canal by 36%, and attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea disrupting trade passage through the Suez Canal, shipping of goods from one country to another is problematic—and expensive, in more than just monetary costs. Manufacturers are being forced to ship smaller, lighter loads (if they choose to pass through the Panama Canal at all), truck their cargo cross-country (where possible), or take the long way around the southern tip of Africa, methods which all delay the arrival of goods at the intended port. The longer trips produce a greater quantity of greenhouse gases, but the ships’ crews exacerbate the issue by moving faster than necessary in order to shorten the delays and keep their consumers happy. Environmental experts urge them to move at slower rates, which would decrease the amount of emissions released by their engines, but so far that isn’t happening. If consumers order only from those vendors who can promise faster delivery, the manufacturers and shipping companies are going to comply.

We’re really quite spoiled, aren’t we? Unfortunately, those bad habits that are part of the overshoot problem are going to cost us, in a big way, and for a long time.

So what can we do to make a difference? We’ve talked here in past issues about ways to be environmentally sustainable, but here are a few that are perhaps not quite as obvious: 

An angled view of a shop window that says "Quality Shoe Repair and Riding Gear Repair. Shines"
  • Think—really think—about everything you purchase, and everything you throw away. How can you make smarter choices to reduce your consumption and/or waste?
  • Don’t insist on the biggest, newest, coolest car/toy/computer/phone/whatever. If the one you have is still functional and meets your needs, you can perform regular maintenance to keep it in prime condition, effect manageable repairs when needed, and use it until it is no longer serviceable. (Especially with electronic devices, which involve even more environmental damages, as well as human trafficking. I’ll touch on that in a future article.) You are super cool, just as you are right now, driving that older model car, using that older iPhone, working on a 5-year-old laptop. It’s fine. Really.
  • Stop listening to those marketers who tell you that beauty or sex appeal or financial/social/business success comes from wearing the latest fashions, or cosmetics and makeup, for that matter. It really doesn’t. Success in those areas comes from a person’s character, not their Ralph Laurens. (There are trafficking and environmental concerns in the fashion and cosmetics industry, as well. In fact, the fashion industry is the second-largest trade that contains slavery in its supply chain.
  • Learn to sew or make friends with a seamstress. Most clothing is easily maintained by mindful care, and the use of simple stitches to close a small hole, replace a button, repair a seam, or darn a sock. Is the item truly past its useful life? Use the scraps to make a purse/bookbag, vest, whatever, or use it for cleaning cloths around the house. Donate it to others who can and do make useful items from scratch. Keep it out of the landfill as long as possible. 
  • Search your local area for a shoe repair shop. Yes, they still exist, and it’s cheaper (and better for the environment) to repair your favorite shoes than to throw them out and buy new ones. Cobblers can replace the sole (or the cap on a heel), repair/replace the insoles, or re-glue/stitch a piece that’s falling off. Buy new shoestrings, not new shoes.
  • Buy local produce, instead of insisting on purchasing fruits and vegetables grown in another country. Or at least buy *more* of your fruits and veggies from local sources. Not only does that cut down on the CO2 costs of shipping, it also supports local farmers. We need them, and they need us.
  • Create communities where sharing is part of your connection. Need a seamstress? Maybe your neighbor knows how to thread a needle, you know how to change the oil in his car. Trade services! Or maybe you need a big crock pot, and your neighbor has one they never use. Make a trade and get those unwanted/unneeded items into the hands of those who can use them now, instead of tossing them into the landfill! (Or shop at a second-hand store and find treasures to meet your actual needs without spending three times the price for something new.) Plant and grow a community garden, where all those who work the plots can take some of the harvest. But community connections go beyond this. What other ideas can you come up with to implement in your neighborhood?

There are so many small things we can do to stop or reduce our consumption of resources, not to mention our wastefulness. What other ideas can you think of? Please share them here, so we can all benefit!

For more info:

Human “behavioural crisis’ at root of climate breakdown, say scientists

Earth Overshoot Day

World Wildlife Fund: Overshoot

Shifting the Trajectory – 02: Overshoot and Collapse Explained

What is climate overshoot and why does it matter?

Panama Canal traffic cut by more than a third because of drought

Human Trafficking in Fashion Supply Chains

Earth Overshoot: How can we achieve true sustainability?

Earth Overshoot Day 2023

Earth Overshoot day 2024—What Your Business Needs to Know


Jewelry Photo by Lara Jameson

Yacht photo by Photo by Diego F. Parra

Shoe Repair photo by Michael Conway on Unsplash

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