We are all living in debt now. Literally.
To be more accurate, we are all living in debt now… ecologically.
This year, on Aug 22, the world marked Earth Overshoot Day. That is the day that our ecological footprint becomes bigger than the Earth is able to replenish it this year. After Aug 22, for the rest of the year, everything we consume is taken from the future; every resource we use leaves us in an ecological deficit as we draw from existing stocks and accumulate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, we have overshot our budget for the year.
In 2003, the world was hit by Sars, then came bird flu in 2005, H1N1 in 2009, and more recently the Australian bushfires and the current Covid-19 pandemic. Over it all looms the spectre of global warming, where scientists and researchers say that if we do not reduce our carbon emissions, the resultant climate change may lead to irreversible harm to the Earth.
This climate crisis has had many people woke, and the more eco-conscious ones have made the switch to reusable straws and recycled bags. Many of us naturally worry about what the future holds for us, especially when it seems like there are new strains of deadly viruses emerging.
The silver lining is that with Covid-19, our ecological footprint this year has diminished. But it’s still not enough. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29, the earliest ever.
I too, worry; especially as a mother of two young daughters. The question of whether my children can survive in today’s world as they grow up is always at the back of my mind.
Already, there are some who choose not to have children as they feel they have a moral duty to future generations that would have to live amid the climate devastation being created now thanks to unchecked consumerism. There are also groups who feel that having more children will place more burden on the planet’s depleting resources.
Regardless of the reason, it’s never easy to make a decision on whether to have children or not. I can only speak for myself: Each time I look at the faces of my daughters after they fall asleep at night, I feel a palpable sense of peace and hope, even after a long day.
Give credit to our next generation
From the ancient Mayan prophecy that the world would end in 2012 (don’t worry, it didn’t) to various harbingers of doom, there have been many predictions of doomsday since the beginning of time.
In 1967, a best-selling book “Famine 1975! America’s Decision: Who Will Survive?” by agronomist William Paddock and his brother, Paul, predicted mass starvation in underdeveloped nations due to increasing population.
However, the exact opposite of the book’s prediction happened. People simply developed new farming technologies to scale up food production. Hybrid seeds were introduced to increase crop yields and its disease-resistant and ship-ability traits allowed it to be transported all over the world.
Leading up to the millennium, naysayers predicted that major computer systems in banks, power plants and transportation would fail thanks to the Y2K bug.
But as we see for ourselves today, our generation not only overcame the Y2K glitch, we have transformed the use of computers and the Internet through our Apple iPhones, Google Drives and Facebook apps. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from our next generation?
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Young activists lead the way
With 17-year-old Greta Thunberg who was nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize and 17-year-old Jamie Margolin, founder of activist group Zero Hour, among others; young people around the world are speaking up and demanding greater action for climate change.
Generation Z influencers are also sharing their voices on climate change through educational posts and environmental memes on Instagram. 26-year-old Samantha Thian, a full-time sustainability manager and founder of Seastainable Co., started the #EastCoastBeachPlan after discovering, on her morning walks, that the beach was excessively polluted with plastic trash. Support from her Instagram followers inspired her to organise beach clean ups at designated areas in Singapore, and also set up a Telegram group chat to update its 2,512 members of clean-up schedules and cleanliness status of the different beaches in Singapore.
Give support to our children
My children are still too young to understand the potential damage humans can do to our planet, but I have been gently imparting nuggets of wisdom reminding them of their duty to take care of the world around us.
For example, I tell them not to take free balloons because they would fly up into the atmosphere and eventually land in the ocean where sea turtles end up eating them. It’s funny sometimes to see how their little faces change from disappointment to intrigue, to finally agreement as they figure out the chain of events.
I’m glad too because then I don’t have to deal with another piece of junk in my house after they are done playing with it!
There are many ways parents can support children who have keen interest in protecting the planet. For a start, we can acknowledge our children’s interest and potential in making a difference. With the help of the Internet and well-stocked public libraries, children today are much more resourceful in finding information and in creative problem-solving.
As adults, we have access to resources that a child does not. Opening doors to help them meet others who have similar passions, providing financial support, and performing hard labour in certain matters may be all part of what it means to be a nurturing parent.
More importantly, emotional support may be what our children need most from us. Fighting for mindset change is often a hard and tumultuous journey, even for adults, thus listening to our children’s problems and offering them advice can help motivate them whenever they hit a roadblock.
In a speech at the inaugural Singapore Climate Rally at Hong Lim Park late last year, 11-year-old Oliver Chua, a member of the Mother Earth Toastmaster club, said: “Parents really do care about what their children think. Let’s teach our parents a lesson for once.”
Instead of thinking that our young “do not know anything”, or are wasting their time trying to save a damaged world, listen and encourage them. You may be surprised how they can offer innovative ideas on tackling the climate crisis.
Just the other day, my eldest daughter, who is just five, gave me a solution to the balloon problem.
“We can go on the boat to clean up the ocean,” she suggested innocently.
Surely, both the young and old can support and learn from each other to do something good for our world.
Instead of focusing on what we can or cannot do to be kind to the environment, why don’t we pay more attention to our children and help provide them a headstart in alleviating some of our future troubles?
You never know, your child may just be the one who saves Mother Earth.
For more information on Earth Overshoot Day and how we can take steps to #MoveTheDate, visit overshootday.org.