Sometime this month, the planet will reach “Earth Overshoot Day,” a day not to celebrate, but one to heed a message.
The day is the approximate date when our resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s ability to replenish those resources. Last year, that date was reached in late August.
Put another way, approximately eight months into the year, our consumption demands more renewable resources and CO2 sequestration than what Earth can provide in the whole year.
The idea for Earth Overshoot Day came out of thinking from the Global Footprint Network and the New Economics Foundation. The former is an organization created to work for a sustainable future in which people can live satisfying lives, living within the means of the planet. The latter is an independent think-tank that works to develop innovative solutions to today’s major economic, environmental and social challenges.
What happens the day after? We go into “ecological overshoot” mode, as the Global Footprint Network explains it. This means we’re compensating for the deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Think living on credit, living on borrowed time and living beyond our means.
Even though Earth Overshoot Day is only a rough estimate of time and resource trends, according to the GFN, it’s as close as science comes “to measuring the gap between our demand for ecological resources and services, and how much the planet can provide.”
For thousands and thousands of years of human history, the balance between man and the planet remained relatively in check. But human consumption started outstripping what the planet could reproduce in the 1970s, GFN explains, so that now the demands of homo sapiens for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is equal to that of more than 1.5 Earths; in a few more decades, two Earths.
The shift required to alter course will be dramatic. Whether humankind has the capacity to change at the level required to lead to a sustainable future that provides a good quality of life for all seems highly questionable. At 7.2 billion people, the needs of millions are not being adequately met now, and we’re on course to add 4 billion more people in the next 75 years.
While advancements in technology, alterations in lifestyle choices, reduction in consumption and different approaches to how we power our lives all can positively effect change towards creating a sustainable world, one of the most significant factors we must better address is population growth. There are many takeaways from Earth Overshoot Day. One is that we need to significantly ramp up our work to slow population growth.