Earth Overshoot Day

OvershootOn the 20th August 2013 (last Tuesday) the planet reached a yearly milestone. Unfortunately not a birthday or something else traditionally celebrated with cake but rather the day when we have used as much nature as our planet can regenerate this year. We are overdrawn, so to speak, when it comes to Earth’s natural resources and now we are living in ‘ecological overdraft’.

The Global Footprint Network calculates demand for the Earth’s ecological resources such as food provisions, raw materials and carbon dioxide absorption, also known as its Ecological Footprint, against the planet’s ability to replenish those resources and absorb waste.

The evidence of this overshoot is clear to see: the accumulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse and the loss of tropical rainforests, to name a few. Our overconsumption of what should be renewable resources impacts human wellbeing and economic development. Two billion people lack access to resources to meet their basic needs.

Consumption is also increasing and will continue to increase with population growth unless an understanding of the limits to the world’s resources and the hardships competing for such resources will cause is at the heart of policy making.

While the planet as a whole is ‘overshooting’ the limits of resources, not all countries are. Here is an interactive map that shows which countries are ecological creditors such as Australia, Russia and Brazil, and which are ecological debtors, USA, UK and China.

In 1993, Earth Overshoot Day fell on 21st October. In 2003, it was on 22nd September. This year it is on 20th August. Earth Overshoot Day arrives a few days earlier each year. If each decade Earth overshoot day is one month earlier then by 2093 we will constantly be in overshoot, a pretty scary thought.



Consuming planet Earth

ID-10010628 (2)Since we first saw images of planet Earth from space in 1968, GDP per capita has almost doubled and mean life expectancy has risen from 56 to 69.6 years. These increases in income and health have been coupled with the depletion of natural capital, increased greenhouse gas emissions and increasing hunger and poverty.

As the book, The Limits to Growth, warned in 1972, the earth’s natural capital is limited and at some point we will reach these limits. Rising prices of goods and services as well as break downs in ecosystem services will indicate this threshold has been breached.  And we have passed this checkpoint. Global metrics that measure human impact on earth’s natural resources such as the Human Development Index, Genuine Progress Indicator, Ecological Footprints, and the Happy Planet Index, all indicate that the earth has exceeded its ability to provide resources to meet human demands and that further human consumption is impacting the earth’s ability to provide such services.

A recent paper authored by Jules Pretty of the University of Essex states that “overshoot has already begun to occur, in which more resources are being used than can be regenerated each year. Yet conventional economic growth is still a primary political goal in most countries.” A Royal Society report of 2012 made clear that unrestrained growth will at some point end as the finite limits of our natural resources are reached.

The paper, entitled The Consumption of a Finite Planet: Well-Being, Convergence, Divergence and the Nascent Green Economy, analyses the relationship between such consumption indicators as GDP, CO2 emissions and meat consumption with well-being across 189 countries and, for three affluent countries, across a time span of 60 years. [Read more…]

Happy Earth Day

ID-10036673 (2)Today is the 43rd Earth Day. An annual event intended to promote awareness of environmental issues such as climate change.

Over 1 billion people in 192 countries are estimated to be taking part in events. You can follow some of these events on Twitter using the hastag #EarthDay. Here in London, for example, some of the city’s most iconic buildings from the London Eye and the Oxo Tower to Westminster Abbey and the Gherkin are all turning their lights off for WWF’s Earth hour (8:30-9:30pm GMT). You can watch Earth hour live or follow on Twitter #doitinthedark

While some of these events are short-term, aiming to highlight the effect overconsumption can have on earth’s resources and climate, Earth Day is also a good time to re-evaluate our lifestyles for the longer term. [Read more…]