By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Although not widely known, Monday, July 29, was designated as “Earth Overshoot Day 2019,” by the Global Footprint Network (GFN), an international sustainability organization in Oakland, California.
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Earth Overshoot Day has nothing to do with the recent 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing by the crew of Apollo 11. Nor is it a day for celebration, especially if GFN’s numbers and forecasts are correct.
What Is Earth Overshoot Day?
Earth Overshoot Day marks the day each year when humanity starts to consume the world’s natural resources faster than they can be replenished.
It is “an alarming threshold,” writes Huffington Post’s Laura Paddison. “Over the last 20 years, Earth Overshoot Day has crept forward by more than two months. And this year, it falls on the earliest date yet.”
In 2018, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 1.
It has taken us only 209 days this year to burn through a year’s worth of resources — everything from food and timber to land and carbon, Paddison notes. “We are using up nature 1.75 times faster than it can be replenished. To do this sustainably, we would need the resources of 1.75 Earths.”
According to a national breakdown by the GFN, the U.S. would need the resources of five Earths to replenish what Americans consume each year. A sampling of other countries includes:
- Australia 4.1 Earths
- Russia 3.2
- Germany 3.0
- Japan 2.8
- UK 2.7
- China 2.2
- Brazil 1.7
- India 0.7
Co-inventor of the Ecological Footprint Calculator and GFN founder Mathis Wackernagel told Paddison that human overconsumption is like a Ponzi scheme.
There Is Nothing to Kickstart the Economy if We Overuse Our Resources
“It depends on using more and more of the future to pay for the present,” Wackenagle explained. “There’s nothing to kickstart the economy if we overuse our resources.” Every economic activity “depends on natural capital. Without that, it’s not going to work.”
He told Paddison that he “blames the current inaction on the failure of politicians and economists to understand that the economy depends on, and is inextricably linked to, natural resources.”
The costs of ignoring the situation “will be huge,” Wackernagel predicted, if we continue “to treat environmental considerations as secondary” rather than as “fundamental to the economy’s ability to survive.”
Humanity Will Eventually Have to Operate within Earth’s Ecological Resources
Wackernagel says humanity will eventually have to operate within Earth’s ecological resources, whether that balance is restored by disaster or by design. “Companies and countries that understand and manage the reality of operating in a one-planet context are in a far better position to navigate the challenges of the 21st century,” he noted.
The biocapacity of an area, as measured in global hectares, represents the ability of a geographic area to renew what its inhabitants demand. Biocapacity is “the ecosystems’ capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans.” Biocapacity can change from year to year.
The Ecological Footprint measures how much demand human consumption places on the biosphere.
An ecological deficit occurs when the Ecological Footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area that is available to that population. A deficit means that the nation is importing biocapacity through trade, liquidating national ecological assets or emitting carbon dioxide waste into the atmosphere.
The geographic size of the country is just one factor in determining how much its Ecological Footprint exceeds its biocapacity. For example, tiny Singapore’s biocapacity deficit is 9,950%, followed by Bermuda at 5,260%.
Leading developed countries with a biocapacity deficit include:
- United Kingdom 301%
- China 278%
- Germany 199%
- United States 122%
The Past Does Not Necessarily Determine Our Future
All is not lost yet, however. “The past does not necessarily determine our future. Our current choices do,” Wackernagel believes. Through wise, forward-looking decisions, we can turn around natural resource consumption trends while improving the quality of life for all people.
The Overshoot date might only be temporary, Wackernagel suggests in his book, Ecological Footprint: Managing Our Biocapacity Budget. “Avoiding ecological bankruptcy requires rigorous resource accounting — a challenging task, but doable with the right tools.”
Significant opportunities to effect that change are to be found in five key areas: cities, energy, food, population, and planet. For instance, cutting CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning by 50% would #MoveTheDate by 93 days.
Another solution would be to move the Earth Overshoot Day back five days each year. That would allow “humanity to reach one-planet compatibility before 2050.”
To reach that goal, however, we have to begin now. Until we are able to fly to Mars on a regular basis and populate the planet with farmers, agronomists and scientists, we have only one planet to rely on for our natural resources. So there is no time to waste.