Hitting a ceiling?

Capacity limits and living on less

According to a book I read a few years ago, humanity’s global population has quadrupled over the past century.  So has our consumption of resources per person.  That means we’re consuming 16 times as much as we were a century ago – on a planet that hasn’t gotten any bigger.

Could we be hitting Earth’s limits?  Recent news – record heat, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and more – would seem to suggest that.  An author of a State of the Climate report published last week said,

“Without actions that address the root problem of humanity taking more from the Earth than it can safely give, we’re on our way to the potential collapse of natural and socioeconomic systems and a world with unbearable heat and shortages of food and freshwater.”

Why not take a deep breath, and read that again (or the report itself here).

There’s not much we can do about our population (though I really wish our leaders were brave enough to start a conversation about strategies going forward).  But there’s plenty we can do about consumption.  I was reminded of that last week when I got an email from a friend who has started living off-grid:

“It really is a surprise how much power we used to waste.  I recently visited {a friend} and was just shocked: they left lights on, tv on… such waste.  I just thought, imagine if we all watched our power consumption, like little power hoarders. What changes would we see in the long run?”

True, off-grid living isn’t for everyone – but everyone can make choices every day to consume less without greatly affecting our lifestyle.  Here are a few ideas for how you can help return balance to our overloaded planet:

  • Adopt a culture of electricity-awareness: turn off anything not in use, like lights and electronics; stick reminder notes next to light switches and other controls asking everyone to do the same; get into the habit of thinking, “Is this really necessary?” before flipping any switch.
  • Lower your thermostat a few degrees, and wear a sweater if you feel chilly. Heating represents 60% of a home’s energy consumption, so it offers big potential for savings.
  • Use a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer whenever possible.  Clothes dryers are energy hogs, consuming about 4500 watts of power when running (for comparison, an LED lightbulb uses 9 watts).
  • When replacing appliances, choose ENERGY STAR rated models for top efficiency
  • Adopt a culture of hot water-awareness: wash clothes in cold water; install a low flow shower head; take fewer and shorter showers; question the first-world notion that a daily shower is necessary or even good.
  • Adopt a culture of transportation-awareness: don’t idle your engine, ever; whenever possible, choose walking, biking, public transit or carpooling options before driving; get into the habit of thinking, “Is this really necessary?” before starting any vehicle.
  • Adopt a culture of consumption-awareness: shop second hand stores; get into the habit of thinking, “Do I really need this?” before you buy anything.  Don’t be too hard on yourself – but don’t shy away from questioning societal norms either, because they’re what have gotten us into this trouble in the first place.  (For example, as a guest on a sustainability program I heard recently said of the new norm of omnipresent bottled water, “No one needs to hydrate that much, dude.”)
  • Adopt a culture of waste-awareness: avoid heavily-packaged and poor quality purchases; rehome or donate stuff rather than throwing it away;
  • Strive to educate yourself on ways to live more lightly on the planet.  For example, follow the Foreman family as they work through Canadian Geographic’s Live Net Zero challenge and share the ton of things they’re learning about saving energy and reducing emissions.

Sustainability is a culture – a way of thinking, acting and living to reduce our impact on an overloaded planet.  Imagine what’s possible if we all do our part – then resolve to do yours!

In the news:

The melting of Western Antarctica, which holds enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by five meters, appears to be accelerating.

Triple wow: Dogger Bank, the world’s largest offshore wind farm (which can generate more power than NB requires on the coldest winter day), produces its first power; and two other giant wind farms off Scotland and the Netherlands are inaugurated.

Making the switch to clean energy would save the average Canadian household $800/month, concludes a report by Clean Energy Canada.


“We could solve half the problem overnight if we, as a society, just wanted to do so.”

  • Moritz Dietsch, co-founder of the ResteRitter, a German startup that “rescues’’ and processes produce otherwise destined for the trash bin

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