It Takes Two to Save the Earth

Part one of a five-part series for Earth Overshoot Day

Time is running out. We’re just two weeks out from Earth Overshoot Day — the day when we humans have used all the resources the planet can replenish in a year. Everything after August 8 is borrowed from wildlife and future generations. That probably sounds scary, and that’s because it is. It feels like one of those problems that’s way bigger than you. I mean, what can one person do?

More importantly, what can two people do.

Let’s back up for a second. What the heck does overshoot mean? Think of the resources the Earth and all its systems create and sustain — like food, fresh water, clean air and healthy soil — as a budget. It’s a pretty big budget that should cover the cost of everyone (and thing) that lives here. But we’ve busted the bank. Humans are now using one and half times the resources the planet can restore each year. Overshoot means we’ve gone way over budget.

Overshoot is about overconsumption. We’re putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the planet can absorb. We’re using more water than rivers and lakes can replenish. We’re using up land at the expense of wildlife habitat. A lot of this comes back to wasteful practices that ignore the impact of industry on the planet. But the sheer number of people plays a role, too. Not only do humans demand a lot of resources, but there are also a lot of us making those demands. A whole lot. Our population has exploded in the last 200 years, from under a billion people in the early 1800s to over 7 billion today.

And this is where those two people come in. In the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. So it’s up to every couple to make sure that if their family grows, it’s intentional.

What can you (and your partner) do to help balance our ecological check book?

Practice Safe Sex. By protecting yourself you can also protect the planet and make sure that you add to the population only if and when you and your partner plan to. Whether you prefer condoms, oral birth control or a long-acting form of contraception like an IUD or vasectomy, you can find the right kind of birth control method for you at Planned Parenthood.

Reproductive Justice for All photo credit: Charlotte Cooper, flickr.com.

Defend Reproductive Rights. Access to contraception and reproductive healthcare in the United States has faced an unprecedented wave of attacks in recent years. Inequality and thinly veiled attacks against women are tearing reproductive rights and women’s rights down, one policy at a time. By supporting reproductive rights and a woman’s right to determine her own healthcare, you can help turn the tide for a more just, sustainable world.

Talk to Your Friends About Their Sex Lives. Awkward, I know… But as devastating as it is to endangered species and wild spaces, human population growth is generally unknown as an environmental threat. There’s no denying that population growth is driving habitat loss, climate change and pollution, so starting the conversation in your community is a critical step to tackle the population problem. Not sure how to break the ice? Try distributing Endangered Species Condoms. Their colorful packaging and catchy slogans make it easier to have conversations about population and wildlife. Sign up here.

The United States is famous for using more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources. But we also have the unfortunate distinction of one of the highest fertility rates of any industrialized nation. Taking responsibility for our reproductive decisions is an important part of protecting plant and animal diversity around the globe, but that’s only possible when everyone has access to reproductive healthcare, family planning and comprehensive sex education.

Overshoot Day is coming. We can’t avoid it this year, but, if we start making changes in our lives now, we can push that date back to the end of the year and ensure that the Earth’s resources are enough for everyone — humans and wildlife — to survive and thrive.

Leigh Moyer is the population organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity.