Earth Overshoot Day 2019
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demands on Nature exceed the capacity for Earth’s ecosystems to regenerate those resources within that year. How long can we live beyond Nature’s means to sustain our growing demands?
The earth is bountiful, the ocean infinite, there for our use and sustenance — a sentiment, not a fact, that has under-laid human behavior for all time, from our most primitive beginnings to our consumption-driven present, always there and fulsome…
Not so of course, a sentiment now revealed as false and delusional as we reach the capacity of both earth and ocean to support our life of excess, living beyond our means.
To measure this, Earth Overshoot Day was established to calculate the total production value of earth and ocean systems and to compare against total consumption value of global human behavior. Earth Overshoot Day, then, marks the date when humanity consumes from Nature more than the planet can provide, either as natural or renewable resources in a year. On what day do we pass over the line from responsible use of earth’s assets to an irresponsible subtraction, living on borrowed resources from the ensuing days, ensuing years, indeed ensuing generations?
In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was July 29, yesterday as of this writing, meaning that today, and all days after, we will be living in debt, in debt for our needs next week and the rest of the year, value subtracted from earth’s total resource capacity. That’s two days earlier than last year, and five months earlier than 1970, the time this calculation was first created.
We are showing no discipline in our expenditure of natural resources, and the situation can only worsen as population continues to grow, behaviors are left unchanged, and the total availability in Nature’s “bank” is evermore de-limited by poisoned inventory of land, crops, food sources, and fresh water. Every year we are spending our future at an increased rate, surely to run out of capacity and time. Our security is threatened, our supplies already rationed, species already consumed to extinction, and no overt, effective plan in place to confront what some call catastrophe or collapse. It is more than a sobering fact, this overshoot day, more than a statistical alert that we are living so far beyond Nature’s means that we are consciously pursuing destruction.
Pessimists abound: take what you can, nothing you can do about it, ignore the implications for even tomorrow as long as we’ve got what we need, or don’t need, today. That is a nihilistic perspective that does not see very far, does not involve anyone else, friends or family or others, and does not care a whit about the future.
I am an optimist — an applied optimist — and it is important to make the distinction. Optimism is a perspective, an attitude; applied optimism is an action, an action taken every day that confronts decline and advocates for necessary change, especially in the context of survival. Applied optimism is change at home, in the workplace, in leisure activity, in community engagement, and in social and political expression. It only works when there is leadership, participation, and continuity of action — it works best in a democracy, as long as there is a commitment to vote, and to extend that vote and its purpose through involvement at every level of life and community.
You would think that this threat to our global food supply would matter. You would think that we could address poverty and hunger worldwide. You would think we would believe in the scientific evidence on which to understand problems and base constructive response. You would think that we would understand the foolishness of waste, or the essential requirement for available clean water, or the need to welcome alternative, more effective and economical technologies by which to provide basic goods and services, or the value of education and communication by which to inform the public that we are at risk and that we have the ways and means to succeed. We are depleting our human resources too.
The earth and ocean are our allies here, not our enemies, not lifeless entities that are to be used until they are no more. The sad truth is that they will outlast us all as we abandon our respect for their limits, for the immutable laws of supply and demand, and for sustenance and community beyond today. If you look at the national ledger of the United States, we have again increased our debt to astronomical numbers — a measurement of a society that, for all its wonder and achievement, has failed as a responsible financial, political, social system by expending, not sustaining or increasing, its asset base. In that expression of hubris and selfishness, we overshoot — now, and every day.
PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory and is author of The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society. He is also the host of World Ocean Radio, a weekly podcast addressing ocean issues, upon which this blog is inspired.