Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Earth Overshoot Day: group quantifies annual demand on natural resources

Today is not a particularly good day if your planet Earth. Today, September 27th, is Earth Overshoot Day, according to the Global Footprint Network (GFN). What this day signifies is that for the remainder of the year we are living on, essentially, borrowed natural resources. We're in debt ecologically-speaking.

GFN has been monitoring this kind of ecological yardstick, the "ecological overshoot," which evaluates the natural resources required by humankind compared with the amount of resources available and their ability to renew themselves. According to GFN, since the mid-70s we have been demanding more every year than the earth can replenish: dwindling forests that can not grow back fast enough before being cut down, shrinking numbers of fish, more CO2 produced than the planet can sequester, and so on.

According to GFN,
"Our research shows that in approximately nine months, we have demanded a level of services from nature equivalent to what the planet can provide for all of 2012. We maintain this deficit by depleting stocks of things like fish and trees, and by accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean."

Earth Overshoot Day is based on a concept originally designed by the UK-based New Economics Foundation. The foundation wanted to devise a method of use versus resources that would be understandable to policy and decision makers - people who are less inclined to understand scientific theories and observations and more receptive to concepts of net gain and loss. The ecological overshoot illustrates when humankind is withdrawing more than it is depositing and, therefore, dipping into its savings of natural resources - an account that is not at all endless.

The culprit that drives this model, and is a primary force even behind our current budget and employment crisis, is the ever-present 800-pound gorilla in the room: population growth. Despite all of our technology and production capability that provides us with everything from flat screen TVs to higher rice and corn yields for developing nations, we are asking more of mother earth than she can give and still renew herself. And it has been estimated that we will reach 7 billion in the next couple of months.

Earth Overshoot Day is an interesting concept, albeit not a cheery one, because it goes beyond theorizing about an environmental apocalypse and, instead, applies a system of measurement that enables us to gauge where we are going, good or bad, and what degree of improvement the future may hold if we all realize that the planet is a bank account with very limited reserves and a low rate of return.

"Global Footprint Network’s preliminary 2011 calculations show we are now using resources at a rate that would take between 1.3 and 1.5 planets to sustainably support. Our research shows us on track to require the resources of two planets well before mid-century. Of course, we only have one Earth. The fact that we are using (or “spending” natural capital) faster than it can replenish is similar to having expenditures that continually exceed income. In planetary terms, the results of our ecological overspending are becoming more clear by the day."

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