The Global Footprint Network performs the public service of calculating how rapidly we are devouring the Earth’s natural resources.
The Network is a charitable not-for-profit independent think tank headquartered in Oakland, California. It brings together over 70 partner organizations with the goal of developing and promoting tools for advancing sustainability. Included is measuring the amount of resources we use and how much we have with the aim of putting ecological limits at the centre of decision-making.
The day when our demand on the planet’s resources for a year exceeds what it can regenerate in that year is called Earth Overshoot Day. The Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s ecological footprint (how much humanity exploits that year), and multiplying by 365. If you’re interested in the details, they can be found here.
Think of supply and demand.
On the supply side is a nation’s biologically productive land and sea area, including forests, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land.
On the demand side is a population’s demand for plant-based food and fibre products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel.
This year Earth Overshoot Day is today, August 2. The resources we use for the rest of the year exceed what the Earth can regenerate over the entire year.
Needless to say, we can’t keep doing this forever. We are drawing down our natural capital. We are bankrupting ourselves. Every year Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier. The clock ticks on.
You might think we have created enough problems for ourselves and our fellow species. We are warming up the planet, setting the stage for a cascade of catastrophes. We are driving one species after another into extinction—a series of holocausts. And to top all this off we are sucking the planet dry of the very resources we need for our survival.
This may be the behaviour of an intelligent species, but it isn’t the behaviour of a wise one. More like one with a suicide complex.
At my advanced age I don’t know why it should bother me. Over 99 per cent of the species that ever appeared on Earth ultimately went extinct, why not us? I won’t be around to see the collapse if that’s the route humanity takes.
But I sort of hope they don’t. I am, I confess, rather fond of Homo sapiens. I would like to see them come to their senses and deal with global warming, species extinction and the profligate exploitation of our natural heritage.
The cynics scoff, but seriously, it could happen. Anyway, today is a good day to ponder such things.