Data has shown that if every person lived like an average United States citizen, we would need five earths to sustain us. Americans consume far more resources than any other major country in the world. Earth Overshoot Day—the annual date where humanity’s demand on ecological resources surpasses Earths ability to regenerate in a year—occurred the earliest in history on July 29, 2019. And on top of that, 2018 was the warmest year on record for both the ocean and atmosphere.
The impact of human activities on our planet is astounding. Human consumption of natural resources and systems have exponentially increased in the last one hundred years, from water and energy usage to plastic production. While feeding our need for products and services, we have degraded our oceans and forests through the loss of biodiversity and collapse of fisheries. But this all comes at a cost to our health and wellbeing. In 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health asserted that human health is directly linked to the management of our natural resources—from air quality, to deforestation, to desertification and more.
And over the past two years, new assessments and reports have driven this message home. In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C, COP24 published a Special Report on Health and Climate Change, and the United States government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The reports continued into 2019, with the release of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on climate change and land use. These reports are simply a fraction of the hundreds of reports published detailing the inextricable links between human health and our environment. Recommendations vary from action at the individual level, such as eating a plant-based diet and flying less, to enactment of policies at the city, state, or federal level. Do individual actions ultimately lead to a healthy future? Studies have shown that people are more likely to change their behavior if they see their friend or neighbor doing this new behavior. But does this apply when dealing with a time sensitive crisis?
On October 23, food security researcher, Esther Ngumbi, environmental anthropologist Eduardo Brondizio, and environmental writer Tatiana Schlossberg, will discuss these questions and the issue of individual change verses systemic and policy change. If Americans are using the resources of five earths to maintain our lifestyle, something needs to change. We hope you will join us to explore these issues further.