Is it time to rethink 'normal'?

Published Tuesday, September 27, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

For most of us, yesterday was probably a pretty normal day.  

We woke up, showered and had breakfast.  We hopped into a car and headed to work.  We did whatever it is we usually do all day, then returned home for supper.  We taxied kids, relaxed for a bit and then went to bed at the usual time.  All in all, just another normal day in a normal life.  

But is our ‘normal’ really normal?  Here are three more happenings from yesterday that might challenge that notion.


Yesterday, 88 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted globally from the burning of fossil fuels to power industries, homes and businesses, and transport people and goods.  That’s about 1000 tonnes every single second of the day.  

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are growing rapidly, but our collective hunger for energy is growing even faster, so emissions are at record high levels.  Canadians are among the highest emitters on the planet.


Yesterday, 11 cubic kilometres of water were used globally.  That’s 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools every second, triple the amount used 50 years ago.

Because of climate change and increasing per capita water consumption, the UN estimates that almost half the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.  The situation would be even more sobering if everyone lived like a Canadian, because our per capita consumption is among the highest in the world. 


Yesterday, we added another day to our global eco-debt.

Here’s what that means.  Several decades ago, a pair of researchers at the University of British Columbia began measuring humanity’s ‘Ecological Footprint’: they analyzed of the annual production capacity of our planet, and compared that to what was actually being consumed by humanity each year.  

The researchers discovered that, until 1970, the planet was producing more than humans consumed each year.  Soon after, however, our collective appetite equalled and then exceeded the planet’s production capacity.  ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ was established to commemorate the calendar day when our consumption eclipsed the planet’s production capacity each year.  The first Earth Overshoot Day was December 24, 1971.  By 1995, it was October 7.  

This year, it was August 8 – meaning that every day since, we’ve been living on eco-credit: essentially, drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest.  Sadly, Canadians play a significant role in this because we buy more stuff, waste more food and generate more trash than most.

Opening his latest exhibit of ravaged Earth images, famed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky recently said, “We’re at a critical moment in history where we’re starting to hit the thresholds of human expansion and the limits of what this planet can sustain.  We’re reaching peak oil, peak fish, peak beef – and the evidence is all there to see in the landscape.”

Rethinking normal

If, like me, you feel gutted by all of this, perhaps it’s time for us to confront an uncomfortable reality: maybe the lifestyle we’ve come to know as ‘normal’ really isn’t normal – or sustainable – after all.  It may feel normal because it’s all we’ve known, but, examined rationally in a larger context, it seems more like the fast lane to resource depletion and environmental ruin.

So what about tomorrow?  Perhaps it will be just another normal day of waking, showering, eating, driving, working, consuming and wasting.

Or maybe it will be the day we decide to redefine our normal, and start taking the small steps that will lead us to more sustainable living, and a much better, happier future.  Small steps like driving less, consuming less, wasting less and living more lightly on the planet – which, if done by many, will create the change we need.

The choice is ours.