Your Prediction of Earth Overshoot Day
In 1980 William Catton published a book titled Overshoot, which outlined how the scale of the human enterprise had outgrown our planet. Every year scientists at the Global Footprint Network calculate the day humanity crosses into overshoot for that year. They’ve dubbed it Earth Overshoot Day, and it’s coming up. I’m inviting you at the end of this post to predict when that day will fall this year.
What, exactly, is overshoot? It’s a critical concept to understand, because it is directly related to the concept of sustainability and the ability of humankind to stick around.
A simple way to explain overshoot is analogizing Earth’s resources and ecosystems to your savings account at the bank. In Earth’s case, we don’t get to make new deposits into our natural capital account. We have to make good use of what is on the planet. Just as your savings account earns interest, Earth’s resources are replenished. Acorns fall and new trees grow. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and put oxygen back into the atmosphere. Fish reproduce.
Now, if you need your savings account to last indefinitely, you can’t be withdrawing the principal. You need to live off the interest it earns. If we want to live on Earth a long time, we need to live off the interest in our natural capital account. If we cut down trees faster than they regrow, or harvest fish faster than they reproduce, or grow and harvest crops faster than the nutrients in the soil can replenish, then we are withdrawing principal from that account.
There can be no debating, that behavior is unsustainable. It can’t go on indefinitely. We have overshot a level of consumption that the planet can support sustainably.
That brings us back to Earth Overshoot Day. The Living Planet Report, based on data from the Global Footprint Network, tells us we are in overshoot today, using about 50% more resources each year than the Earth can replenish. That’s why we’re seeing climate disruption, fisheries collapsing, aquifer and river levels dropping, and high rates of species extinction, among other evidence.
Of course, we use too much of the planet’s bounty every day. If our savings account earns a dollar in interest every day, we are withdrawing $1.50. We can only do that year after year if we stop withdrawing interest every August and ride out the rest of the year with no more withdrawals. We can’t actually do that with Earth’s resources, but in order to help us visualize just how far into overshoot we are, Global Footprint Network calculates what day each year we’d have to basically stop eating, drinking, peeing, driving, flying, manufacturing, and drinking – and hold our breath for the rest of the year in order to make up for our unsustainable rate of resource intensity up to that point.
Last year Earth Overshoot Day was August 22. It’s been moving about 3 days earlier every year, which is a sign we are not paying attention to the evidence and changing our ways. Our footprint is a product of the size of our population and the size of our economy. More economic growth and population growth won’t solve this problem; they will make it worse. If we love our kids, we will make every effort to end population growth, consume less, and relax a little more. Relaxing doesn’t chew up the planet!
So, how have we been doing for the past year? Relaxing more? Consuming less? Practicing safe sex? We’re taking a little poll to see what most of us think about our civilization’s progress toward sustainability. When do you think Earth Overshoot Day will fall this year? If you don’t see the poll here, take the poll here.
Filmmaker & GrowthBuster
Trackback from your site.