Bekkerus: The consequences of our carbon footprint

Columnist Paula Bekkerus states the severity of planet Earth’s condition due to our large carbon footprint. 

Paula Bekkerus

I’m sure we’ve been seeing the news lately — hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and more are storming the United States and the world. According to the United Nations, the number of climate disasters in the world has increased five times in the last 50 years. It’s easy to feel helpless; individual impact is extremely low compared to the impact big businesses have on the environment

Frankly, we should be feeling more worried than we currently are. Our carbon footprint has more than doubled since 1970, and our biocapacity limits are struggling. In fact, humans are using resources 1.7 times faster than the Earth can regenerate them. In other words, we are using the resources of 1.7 Earths. And, if everyone in the world lived like Americans, we would need five Earths to sustain our lifestyle. This is one of the highest ratings out of almost all countries (check out the full list here).

This year, Earth Overshoot Day — the day of the year when “humanity’s demand for ecological resources (fish and forests, for instance) and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year,” according to — landed on July 29. When looking at this date compared to past dates, it’s increasingly glaring that we need to change something, and now.

Next, let’s look at ourselves. How many Earths would we need to support your lifestyle? I got my number, and it really opened my eyes to everyday things we take for granted that could be harmful. I’m not saying we need to completely overhaul our lifestyles, but some change is definitely in order.

There are four key factors that impact overshoot: our consumption, how products are made, how many people are using resources and how much Earth is able to regenerate in a certain amount of time. For now, I’m going to focus on overconsumption.

In the phrase “Reduce, reuse, recycle,” there’s a reason why reduce comes first in order: we need to be consuming less. But reducing doesn’t always get first priority. In an interview with The Guardian, author JB MacKinnon suggested our solutions may be inverted.

“[Consumerism is] deeply ingrained … it’s much easier for us to think, ‘Let’s make all these cars run on solar power instead of gas,’ rather than, ‘How do we end up with fewer cars?’”

This transition in thinking is what needs to change within the next few years. I love shopping as much as the next person, if not more-so. But in order to truly make an impact, it is most efficient to buy less.

One specific area we could be doing better in is fast fashion. Fast fashion uses outsourced labor and underpaid workers to cheaply make low-quality, on-trend clothing that Generation Z seems to be eating up. In this article, several of the interviewees stated they don’t wear some clothing more than once because they can’t post themselves online wearing it again. I’m part of Gen Z, but I know that societal standard is ridiculous and completely unsustainable. Especially since clothing trends have been changing so quickly thanks to the rise of TikTok, fast fashion brands have been releasing new clothing collections with upwards of 900 new items per week.

This is not a generational problem, and I don’t at all mean to make it one. In fact, Gen Z making thrifting a trend has had some seriously positive impacts (and some negative ones, too). But clothes and fashion are one place we can all look at to see if we’re making ethical, sustainable choices (if that’s an option for you and your budget). 

As a whole, though, the main change we need to make is passing legislation, specifically a Green New Deal, if not more. This call for change is not new: the UN suggested a Global Green New Deal in 2009, and the Overshoot Day website suggests this kind of change would move the date by 42 days

We have seen some change thanks to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, but it is not enough, and we need action now.

Click here for more information on moving our overshoot date and here for ideas on how you can reduce your own personal footprint. Remember, this won’t happen overnight or individually. It’s up to us as a community to make a difference.