Earth in Overshoot

Published on September 15th, 2013

Recently the Global Footprint Network in Oakland, Calif., announced that August 20 was Earth Overshoot Day 2013. That is, for this calendar year still in progress, humanity had already exhausted nature’s budget for the entire year, when there were still 133 days left to go.

It is not a milestone worth celebrating, any more than receiving a notice from your bank that you’ve overdrawn your checking account is. It’s more a cause for consternation than anything else

When it comes to our accounts with nature, humanity is in the red.

As the Network explains, Earth Overshoot Day is the approximate date that aggregate human consumption of ecological resources surpasses what Earth can renew this year. By August 20, the Earth’s human population of 7.2 billion had devoured natural resources and ecological services equivalent to what the biosphere can regenerate for all of 2013. This includes resources such as food and raw materials like wood to services such as sequestering or capturing carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by fossil fuel combustion.

What this means is that for the remainder of 2013, our global civilization is operating in ecological overshoot, above and beyond the carrying capacity of Planet Earth. It is a perilous place to be. Operating in this “red zone” for any length of time will deplete the Earth’s resources, irreparably damage the environment and undermine the continued prosperity and sustainability of the human enterprise.

As the Network points out:

…we will maintain our ecological deficit by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. As our level of consumption, or “spending,” grows, the interest we are paying on this mounting ecological debt – shrinking forests, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse, food shortages, degraded land productivity and the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and oceans – not only burdens the environment but also undermines our economies.

As if all this were not distressing enough, in the course of 2013, some 80 million people will have been added to the Earth’s human population, and some 3 million to America’s, each and every one of them placing additional demands on an already over-stressed ecosphere.

Homo sapiens will have to do a better job of respecting nature’s economy if we are not to go bankrupt, and drag the Ecosphere down with us in a much larger, more painful version of the 2008 financial crash.

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