Like many dads, having kids completely changed my life. My daughters and son bring me a level of joy and love that I never really knew was possible. But what else do our kids bring us? Worry. I worry about everything. Will they make friends? Are they being bullied? Will they do well in school? Will they be upset when they lose their soccer game? Do I give them enough? Do I give them too much?
This is something all parents feel, but I do have an added layer of worrying given what I know about the state of our world from the work I do. We are currently on a path to leave our kids and grandkids a world that is less habitable than the one we grew up in.
Today is Earth Overshoot Day – the day that marks the moment in the year when human beings have used more natural resources (like fresh water, wood from forests, energy and food) than the Earth can sustainably provide. While economies, populations and resource demands grow, the size of Earth remains the same. Since the 1970s (the same decade that Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax and Rachel Carson brought us Silent Spring), we have been using natural resources at a rate that exceeds the planet’s ability to restock.
According to WWF’s Living Planet Report, we are currently consuming on an annual basis the equivalent of what 1.5 Earths can provide. In a mere four decades between 1970 and 2010, the world’s vertebrate animal populations fell by an average of 52 percent. And more than 60 percent of the vital services provided by nature, from our forests to our seas, inexorably decline. By all major measures, we are exhausting our planet’s ability to support us and our way of life.
But while I worry incessantly about what this means for my little ones and their little ones, I also find tremendous hope. I see my kids having a deeper understanding of both their individual and our collective impact on the world. We have an opportunity to set a different course that our children can carry further and will ultimately lead to a healthier planet.
Everyone can help stop ecological overshoot by making better choices in our daily lives. Here are a few simple tips to run your life sustainably.
- Shop your fridge! Don’t throw out food, rather be creative and make a meal made from leftovers. It’s shocking, but not many people realize that in America we throw away 40% of our food.
- Use the sun! Install solar panels as the cost has dropped 80% since 2008. Powering your household with sunshine can lower your electricity bills as well.
- Carpool! Rock the minivan with your kids and their friends to lower your carbon footprint.
When all is said and done, the most important action? Instill in your kids an appreciation for nature and an understanding of both our impact and responsibility to protect it. Take them outdoors to feel the dirt, see wildlife and smell the flowers. That’s how I plan to observe Earth Overshoot Day. How about you?
About Steve Ertel
Steve Ertel is the Vice President of External Affairs at World Wildlife Fund where he has responsibility for WWF’s U.S. communications strategy and helps lead the organization’s efforts to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth. During his time at WWF, Ertel has helped lead several award-winning communications campaigns, including the Stop Wildlife Crime campaign to halt illegal wildlife trafficking, the Arctic Home polar bear conservation initiative and Earth Hour, among many others.
He has spent most of his career managing strategic communications programs for environmental organizations. Prior to joining WWF in 2008, he served as the director of media relations for The Nature Conservancy. He also led media relations at the Environmental Defense Fund.
He lives in Virginia with his wife, three children and dog named Brogan.
Photo Credit: The Ertel children at Potomac Gorge, VA © Steve Ertel/WWF