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Opinion  •  2 min

Canada overshoots, in the worst possible way

Published on 

If all of the world’s population lived like Canadians, we would have already consumed all the renewable natural resources that the Earth can regenerate in a single year by the end of last week.

Yes, March 15 was Canada’s Overshoot Day for 2024, meaning that Canada will be living on credit the rest of the year, nearly five months before the rest of the planet, whose Overshoot Day will be August 2.

It would take 4.9 planets to meet the needs of the global population if everyone consumed the way we do in Canada. We are among the five countries that consume the most resources per capita.

Resources are being wasted, and it’s getting out of control. In 2023, the world’s population threw out 2.3 billion tons of objects, food, materials and packaging. If current trends continue, this figure will rise to 3.8 billion tons by 2050.

The impacts are enormous. Runaway consumerism and the short lifespan of our goods and are putting a huge strain on the environment. According to a recent UN report, natural resource extraction is responsible for 55% of the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of air pollution, and is the main driver of water supply issues and the disappearance of animal and plant species. According to forecasts, this extraction would increase 60% by 2060.

Year after year, the impacts of overconsumption pile up. To whose benefit?

Wasting, polluting, impoverishing

With all of this unbridled extraction, production and consumption, you would think that our lives would be somewhat enriched or improved? That our society would be better off?

Sadly, no. Our purchasing power is declining, and the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us mere mortals is ever widening. This increased consumption does not correlate with a decline in the cost of living or an improvement in our well-being.

While many people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, there are some companies that are throwing out new clothing, unopened cans are being dumped into waste containers, and unsold (but perfectly functional) objects are ending up in compactors.

Some companies are throwing out astronomical amounts of food every day. This, at a time when one in ten Quebecers must resort to food banks to get by.

The reality is that in 2024, it’s often easier and less costly for these businesses to destroy and waste than to change their practices.

A broken system that needs rethinking

Having painted this awful picture, we must tackle the root of the problem: our system of production and consumption is broken. It is disconnected from the inescapable reality posed by the physical limits of nature, which nourishes and provides for us.

For example, we’re told that building a battery plant for electric Hummers, which would require a humongous amount of natural resources, will help kick-start the green transition. Focused as we are on our carbon footprint, many do not make the direct connection with our material footprint.

Fortunately, alternative systems, such as second-hand and right to repair movements, are emerging throughout the world and are gaining traction with increasing amounts of people.

A case in point is the new legislation presented by the Quebec government, which would require manufacturers to make replacement parts for their products accessible within a reasonable timeframe and at an affordable price. We also have lots of recovery and reuse centres across Quebec. These centres give a second life to all types of furniture, clothing and various other items. Réemploi+ hardware stores are doing well in three Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean municipalities, and RÉCO, a renovation centre dealing exclusively in recovered items, has just opened in Montreal. All hopeful signs.

In the long term, with a bit of time (which we don’t have much of) and support, these initiatives will assume their rightful place.

In the meantime, the only way to slam the brakes on the mortifying pillage and destruction of our resources by the greediest among us is to subject them to severe and ambitious regulatory restrictions.

For it is not just the limits of our planet that we are overshooting, but the limits of our economic model as well.