Shop Less, Save More (Planet)

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

Stephanie Feldstein
Center for Biological Diversity

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Every day we’re sold the idea that we need more stuff. That if we’re not happy or beautiful or successful enough, it’s because we just haven’t purchased the right product yet to make it so. And we’re sold the lie that as long as we use our re-usable shopping bags, our purchases don’t have much impact on the planet.

Today is the day to stop buying it.

As of today, Aug. 8, we’ve maxed out our credit line with the planet. Only eight months in, and we’ve already spent more resources than the Earth can replenish in a year — and the environment certainly isn’t any happier, more beautiful or more successful for it. Neither are we. A United Nations report recently found that our consumption of the Earth’s resources has more than tripled over the past 40 years, having a “severe impact” on human health and quality of life.

In this five-part series, the Center for Biological Diversity has talked about how we can shrink our environmental footprints to push back against Earth Overshoot Day. We’ve covered the big decisions, like when and whether to have children or where your energy comes from, as well as day-to-day actions, like how much water you use or what’s on your dinner plate. Now it’s time to take on our culture of overconsumption.

Everything we consume affects wildlife in its production, use or disposal. We demand a lot of the Earth just to meet the basic needs of 7.4 billion people, and most of us in the United States live well beyond those basic needs. This isn’t a call to give up everything you own and move into a yurt with only the clothes on your back. It’s a call to question the endless drive to consume and consider what really buys happiness.

So before your next purchase, stop to ask yourself if it’s something you really need. If you do, is there an option for you to buy it second-hand to avoid using more resources to produce a new one? Is there a more efficient or higher-quality version you can choose? If it’s a thing you’re replacing, can the old one be reused, re-purposed, donated or recycled?

And there’s one more question you should ask yourself before you give in to the temptation of the next new gadget or Earth Day sale: Have you been outdoors lately?

I don’t mean trekking to the top of Everest (though if that’s your thing, have fun and remember to leave no trace). I’m talking about going for a walk to your local park or finding a trail close to home for a hike. Toss a Frisbee in the sun, or take a nap under a tree. Go bird watching in your backyard, or go for a swim in your local lake. However you choose to enjoy nature, take a moment to appreciate this planet that keeps us and all of the amazing other animals and plants we share it with alive.

Connecting with the world around us is important. It reminds us what we’re fighting for, and what we have to lose if we keep spending the planet’s resources like the one percent. And it’s good for us.

The only way to balance our account with the planet is to change our culture of overconsumption. It’s going to take sweeping changes, such as reforming our unsustainable food system and getting all that unnecessary plastic packaging off the shelves. It’s also going to take reimagining ourselves — instead of “consumers” we’re citizens of the planet who want a future with clean air and water, wild places, biodiversity and a stable climate. Let’s start by honoring Earth Overshoot Day by spending time outside and making a #pledgefortheplanet to leave a smaller footprint.

Stephanie Feldstein is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Stephanie Feldstein
Center for Biological Diversity

Stephanie is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity.