Rethinking consumption

If we agree that the world is finite, then the pace at which we are consuming it is and should be an important concern. Locally, we can rethink how we produce, consume, reuse, or recycle goods and rethink our reliance on non-renewable resources like oil and gas.

Why we should care

Our current patterns of extractive consumption (taking from the earth) are at odds with nature. The impact on our future as a species, and most certainly on our current lifestyles is inescapable.

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when we have used all the biological resources that the Earth can renew during the entire year. From this point on it is necessary to draw on the next year’s resources. In 1970 it was 358 days before we reached the Overshoot Day (December 25). In 2022 it only took 209 days before we broke the budget (July 28).

Why are we overbudget? One reason is the expanding world population, doubling in size since the mid-1970s, and the other is rising levels of material consumption. Currently, our economy works in a take-make-waste system. We take raw materials from the Earth, we make products from them, and eventually we throw them away as waste. Much of this waste ends up in landfills or incinerators and is lost.

We can, however, get more in sync with natural systems which are self-sufficient, balanced and circular. We can reduce our dependence on carbon intensive goods and create modes of producing and consuming that are rooted in our local economies and which maximise the value and utility of the earth’s gifts.

The big picture

If we agree that the world is finite, then the pace at which we are consuming it is and should be an important concern.

Think of it in terms of a family budget. Quite simply, we can only consume what we have. If we spend (consume) our budget before the month is up, then we have to go without, or go into debt, spending the next paycheque before it is earned.

The boomer generation lived through unprecedented economic growth. However, in the 80s and 90s, red flags started surfacing around the food industry and some began to ask ‘how healthy was the food on our plate?’. Others began asking about the origins of the other consumer products we were buying and ‘who was making them?’, as we become more aware of some of the harmful by-products of our consumption.

Today, growth based on consumption continues, but a growing unease has entered the marketplace. Public demonstrations and policy discussions continue to raise the issue of overconsumption and its impact on our future.

Local connections

Here in Northumberland, there are many efforts under way to rethink and reduce our consumption of the Earth’s resources.

There are many working on solutions to what is commonly called the “take-make-dispose’ linear economy. This is where we extract materials from the earth, use them to make products, which then end up in a landfill. Instead, they are working to reduce demand for new products, through sharing (re-use) and repairing, improving recycling efforts, moving closer to a circular economy which reduces waste and maximises the use of finite resources.

Others are tackling our consumption of non-renewable resources, especially those that are responsible for high carbon emissions and the resulting climate crisis.  

More resources

Learn more about Earth Overshoot Day: 

Learn more about consumption and unsustainability:

Learn more about how a circular economy compares to the linear economy: 

The power of community

Our community journey

What does sustainability look like?

Sustainability is a complex and evolving concept and best understood today as a movement to find a balance between the environment, equity, and the economy.

Each community needs to determine  how this will look for themselves based on their local characteristics and the needs of residents. 

We encourage our Northumberland community to ask and answer the question: How do we reduce our ecological footprint while enhancing our social wellbeing and maintaining our economic viability?

Is sustainability attainable?

There is a growing awareness, globally and locally, of the environmental and societal challenges we currently face, however, there is little societal or political consensus on what to do and how quickly to act. Our network recommends a bottoms-up approach with solutions emerging from within each community contributing to our shared future.

Locally, individuals, businesses, and organizations bring a range of perspectives, responses, resources, and commitment to the sustainability challenges we face. Each may be located at different points of the sustainability spectrum, each action adding up to broader change across Northumberland.

 

Community Power Northumberland convenes with diverse partners to enable and inspire community-based sustainability initiatives across Northumberland County. Together, we are working towards a sustainable future for all communities across Northumberland that is resilient to the impacts of climate change and where no one is left behind.