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Earth Overshoot Day: Production vs. Consumption

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The Earth is Finite

When our ancestors looked out across the vast landscape of Earth, they concluded that resources provided by the Earth were infinite. That was perfectly understandable. There were few humans around at that time, they had no reason to think otherwise, and as they explored the world using new-found travel technologies such as sailing, all of the 'new' vastness they found only served to reinforce this perception.

Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Witness the species we've driven to extinction or near extinction--mammoths, rhinos, tigers, bison, wolves, various subspecies of salmon, the carrier pigeon, and so on. Some of those species aren't coming back. The ones that might will require enormous expenditure of resources to make it happen.

Witness crude oil. Formerly plentiful and cheap, it's become scarce enough that we're now extracting natural gas through fracking and attempting to use the extremely dirty tar sands to make up the shortfall.

Witness 'fossil water'-- reservoirs beneath the surface that have no potential of replenishing themselves at the rate we use them. An example would be the Ogallala Aquifer in the central U.S., which can replenish at a quarter-inch per year but is being using up at the rate of one to seven feet per year. Same with California, which is only now beginning to realize that it's fossil water is disappearing and not coming back.

Witness the oceans. If we consider everything harvestable in the oceans to fall under the simple term 'protein,' then estimates are that 90 percent of the protein in the ocean is gone, thanks to factory fishing.

There are other examples, but you get the picture. Resources that we've always considered to be infinite really aren't. Yet we still think they are. Suggestions that we will run out of oil, or fish, or groundwater are met with MASSIVE pushback, mostly from those whose economic well-being are dependent on us not understanding what's happening.

Clearly we must readjust our thinking. There is only one truly infinite source of energy, and that's the sun. There are still some apparently infinite sources of energy such as geothermal and tidal, but they're too scarce to benefit all of humanity. Wind is a good candidate for being considered renewable without end. We used to consider rivers to be renewable sources, but changing weather patterns have threatened many rivers, such as the Colorado, and their dependent cities, such as Las Vegas.

Earth Overshoot Day

One tool that has been developed to assist us in understanding our plight is Earth Overshoot Day. Basically, Earth Overshoot Day is that day of the year when the consumption of the Earth's resources exceeds the production of those resources for the year.

In an ideal world, production would always exceed consumption. That hasn't been happening since around the 1970s. Since then, Earth Overshoot Day has been creeping steadily forward in the calendar, and this year it happens to have fallen on August 8th. That means from August 8 forward, we are in deficit spending mode with respect to whether or not the Earth can continue to support us.

Alarming? I would certainly think so. But it's not alarming to deniers or those who are simply unaware, so there is work to do. In the EDM world, this falls under the categories of planning and preparation. Planning and preparation require education, and education is a significant component of the work of our field. So read up! Understand what's racing down the pike at us! Then go out there and educate, educate, educate.

A lot is depending on us. That's not new news. But the form of how society and civilization depends on us is changing rapidly, and the topics of foresight, conservation, renewable resources, etc., are increasing being thrown into our field, and for good reason. There's really no one more qualified to understand what's going on than EDM professionals. So play your part, and do it well.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.