World overshoot day

Earth from space, Western hemisphere. Image by NASA, in public domain

Earth from space, Western hemisphere. Image by NASA, in public domain

August 20th was World Overshoot Day – the estimated day on which the world’s population had used up the planet’s annual renewable resources and carbon-absorbing capacity. To get a rough idea of our use of land for agriculture, for example, check out this quick animation.

It’s no surprise that this day gets earlier every year: our population is increasing, as is our use of renewable and non-renewable resources, as well as our generation of pollution (air, water, and soil) that impacts renewable resources. Despite some improvements in efficiency of land and energy use and production methods, we are still using more than the planet can renew, and have been since about 1975. Increasingly so, in fact: we’re making some previously arable land unsuitable for agriculture, due to salination, drought, soil loss, and nutrient loss, and other problems.

And as the first world clamours for more of everything, nations in the rest of the world want the same benefits for their people. So it’s unlikely that first world nations could persuade the rest of the planet to make do with less than what they’ve already got in order that the first worlders can continue to use more of the planet (even if that were morally acceptable).

We could take a lesson from some past civilisations: there are several that have learned, to their cost, that using up all the renewable resources available is not a good long-term plan. And while some might pin their hopes on some as-yet undiscovered technological solution, that’s a pretty risky strategy.

A far safer way would be for us to learn how to live within our means as a species: if we can achieve the (drastic) change in mindset required, this would have the added benefit of allowing us to think in the long term on a variety of issues.

After all, humans can’t exist on a planet that’s devoid of other life, or even one that’s missing many of the species we have today. Every species counts: if we are to survive, we need other species to survive too. Which means we need them more than they need us.

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