Co-authored by Tina Jabr
The year 1970 was a watershed for humanity. For the first year in human history, we used up more resources than the earth could replenish within that time. Earth's "overshoot day" -- the day of the year when we officially run through the resources that the earth creates in a year -- has been steadily moving up the calendar by about two to three days annually. In 2014, August 19 was Earth Overshoot Day. We would have consumed about 1.5 Earths worth of resources by Dec. 31.
But this is not an article about the environmental catastrophe already upon us. This is more about the fundamental impulse behind the economic engine that is carrying us over the cliff. Why is it that we consume so many resources? What is it that drives us to accumulate more and more? Do we really need the iPhone 6 when we already have an iPhone 5 or 4 or 3...?
I am of course not including the billion or so people who live on less than $1.25 a day in this. Everything that can be done to alleviate their situation must be done, especially since they are the ones who will pay the heaviest price when climate change really comes calling. The irony is that it is only because these billion or so famished souls have stayed poor that we still haven't snowballed into ecological catastrophe. If we were to raise their standard of living to even a minimally humane level while maintaining our own living standards, the earth wouldn't be able to bear the burden too long.
This is not a lecture on austerity or charity. We must do what we need to do to live in comfort and good health, but at what point do we draw a line and look beyond this insatiable desire for the next glittery thing? Do we really need a bigger house or a faster car? Can we learn to stop tying our notions of success to the size of our bank balances and wallets? These are the fundamental questions we need to look at.
For too many today, their mode of living is geared towards creating wealth, but wealth does not necessarily translate to well-being. If it did, we wouldn't have nearly 70 percent of Americans on at least one prescription drug and one in 10 Americans on antidepressants. And the rate of antidepressant usage among those aged 12 and older has increased almost fourfold between 1988-1994 and 2005-2008. Notably, usage did not vary based on income status.
Only when our focus shifts from an economy of wealth to an economy of well-being can a saner, safer world become a reality. We need to stop the game of comparison -- it's okay that someone has a better paying job and a bigger house than you. We don't have to suffer from inadequacy and play the "level up" game. We need to have the wisdom to look at what is relevant to us in our life and stay that course. This is not about making sacrifices. It is just a question of living sensibly.
The planet still has enough to offer if we can bring our consumption down to a sensible level. We cannot avoid exploiting something of what the earth offers if we have to exist here. But if we could do it in a gentler way, without extracting such a terrible toll, sustainable living would become a reality.
Governments, corporates and individuals need to take the initiative. Governments need to pass laws quick, to ensure that economics is not about conquest but about collaboration. The recent Lima climate pact is a small step of hopefully many more in the right direction. Corporates need to stop propelling everyone towards mindless consumerism or talking about CSR like they are doing everyone a favor. After all, shouldn't every corporate be socially responsible in the very way it conducts business? And individuals need to take stock and look at this impulse within that drives us towards more and more.
Since it's Christmas time, the time of giving, and new year, the time of resolutions, maybe a promise to ourselves would not be out of place. How about we make a gift to Mother Earth and the generations of humanity to come? Instead of buying our friends and relatives something, maybe we could gift them each a sapling to plant and care for. And as a resolution for 2015, how about we resolve to be a little more conscious. Every day for the next 365 days, let's choose one thing we never really thought about before, and consciously decide whether it is necessary or not. Going to the store? Maybe it's close enough to walk instead of taking the car. Getting a hamburger? Maybe a salad would be better for your body and the planet.
We need to get wise before it's too late. The generations to come will hold us responsible for the world they are born in. So let's make this a conscious Christmas and a more responsible new year.
Ms. Jabr is a volunteer and yoga teacher for Isha Foundation. As a Lebanese citizen who witnessed the turmoil of war, her ambition is to contribute towards shaping a more humane society and creating a stable state of peace for future generations. From an early age, she showed a strong interest in environmental and humanitarian issues, which led her to pursue a Masters of Public Health degree and specialize in Hospital Management.