Humanity’s overconsumption of earth’s resources brings up fears that future generation’s will suffer from a lack of natural resources. To help raise awareness of human consumption environmentalists began holding an annual event called Earth Overshoot Day. The actual day of the event changes as the more resources consumed, the earlier the day is marked, and the more the damage and bigger the ecological debt. What is this day and what ecological debt is this?

According to the Global Footprint Network, which is the founder of the Earth Overshoot Day, the day marks when humans on earth have used more of nature’s resources than the planet can renew within that year. It is similar to running out of the budget when a project is midway, which creates a planet and project that is unsustainable.

The year’s Earth Overshoot Day was marked on August 2, the earliest ever since it began to be observed annually in the 1970s. It has been coming earlier with each consecutive year, which according to the Global Footprint Network reveals a trend that will make the earth uninhabitable for future generations, unless consumption patterns change.

 

Past Earth Overshoot Days. Source: Global Footprint Network

After the earth’s natural resource budget for the year is used up, humanity is forced, essentially, to dig into its stocks for the future which leads to more carbon dioxide (CO2) produced than can be absorbed. According to Global Footprint Network, unsustainable practices such as overfishing, overharvesting, cutting down of forests and increased emission of CO2 leads to the accelerated depletion of resources. We are currently using the earth at 1.7 times faster than it can renew itself.

“Fires are raging in the western United States. On the other side of the world, residents in Cape Town have had to slash water consumption in half since 2015. These are the consequences of busting the ecological budget of our one and only planet,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network. His statement was in reference to the California fires of 2018 which have destroyed more than 200,000 acres of land and Cape Town’s acute shortage of water which is blamed on climate change.

“Our current economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet. We are borrowing the earth’s future resources to operate our economies in the present. Like any Ponzi scheme, this works for some time, but as nations, companies or households dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt, they eventually fall apart,” added Mathis.

Using #MoveTheDate as a hashtag campaign, the organization hopes to get everyone on board in reversing the dangerous trend and moving the Earth Overshoot date backward. It projects that if 50 percent of meat consumption on earth was replaced with a vegetarian diet, the overshoot date would be moved by 5 days. And if emission of CO2 into the atmosphere was cut by 50 percent, the overshoot date would be moved by 93 days.

The report by Global Footprint Network came just before another study by a team of international scientists was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) where they said that even if the recommendations of the Paris Agreement on climate change were met, the earth will still enter a state they call “Hothouse Earth”.

According to the study, the Hothouse Earth effect means the earth will assume a persistently hot climate averaging at “4-5o C higher than pre-industrial temperatures and the sea level will be 10-60 meters higher than today.”

Calling for urgent acceleration in efforts towards achieving an emission free global economy, Will Steffen, the lead author of the study said, “Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on earth. Our study suggests that human induced global warming of 2o C may trigger other earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks’, that can drive further warming even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.”

“Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the earth system,” Steffen added.

 

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