August 1st 2018 is the earliest day in history that humanity has used up more resources than the planet can renew in one year. The Global Footprint Network annually estimates how early all of humanity has used up a year’s worth of the Earth’s resources. It’s called “Earth Overshoot Day,” and this year we’ve reached it two months earlier than in 1997, when it occurred in late September. This unprecedented exhaustion of resources signifies the alarming pressures humans are exerting on the planet.

The Global Footprint Network currently estimates we need 1.7 earths to support present levels of human activity. In Canada, we are doing far worse. If all 7.6 billion people in the world lived like Canadians, 4.7 earths would be required. In this scenario, Earth Overshoot Day would be reached on March 18. Canadians are feeling the repercussions. The country’s ecosystems are already under pressure, and according to the WWF, 50% of monitored vertebrate species experienced declines from 1970 to 2014, of which the average decline was by 83%.

In A/J’s Ecological Economics issue 43.1, ecological economist Brett Dolter argued the best path for a sustainable Canada is to electrify all societal infrastructure, and then source all electricity renewably. While the idea is simple enough, one issue holding Canada back from using resources more efficiently is our aging and outdated North American electrical grid. According to the Canadian Electricity Association, it requires “a wave of infrastructure investment and renewal on an unprecedented scale”. We cannot transition to flexible and renewable energy sources without the grid to match. This new type of grid is called a “smart grid,” and it makes better use of existing power generation, transmission, and distribution assets. It is more resilient, is safer, and creates good middle-class jobs for Canadians.

To address this issue, the Government of Canada announced in January of 2018 that it would be investing up to $100 million for utility-led projects that would make use of smart grid technologies. The funding was provided as part of the 2017 Budget, which promised $21.9 billion in funding for green infrastructure. It is a promising start, and will be one of the solutions to our overuse of resources.

To calculate your own personal Earth Overshoot Day, head over to http://www.footprintcalculator.org/ . To read more about tomorrow’s infrastructure, go to the Canadian Electricity Association’s page, https://electricity.ca/lead/powering-canadas-economy/investing-tomorrows-infrastructure/.

Niara van Gaalen is a graduate of the International Baccalaureate program and will be entering the University of Waterloo to study architecture in the fall of 2018.

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