A choice – overshoot by more or less

Six days earlier than last year.

That day was last Monday. It was the day when the world’s population consumed the resources the earth would require a full year to regenerate. To sustain an average lifestyle, now requires the resources of more than one and a half earths.

For this year we overshot the earth’s capacity for sustainable supply by over four months.

Next year, the world’s ecological ‘Overshoot’ will be longer.

And longer still the following year and so on, year after year until the earth has insufficient credit in the resource bank for us to make our withdrawals from.

The resources in the bank include the soil to grow nutritious and safe food. And the water that sustains life on earth. And places to dump the rubbish we generate. And the energy we need to travel, feed, educate and enlighten us. And the biodiversity that inter-dependent species require to survive. And so much more.

earth overshoot day

Overshoot Day is an interesting way to assess sustainability. It is a concept introduced by the Global Footprint Network, an international not-for-profit organization with offices in California and Geneva.

The Network also developed the Ecological Footprint concept and from that the National Footprint Accounts.

New Zealand has a national footprint of 5.6 global hectares per person, well within the country’s carrying capacity of 10.1 global hectares. A global hectare is the statistician’s way of enabling comparisons between countries.

Our society has an ecological footprint more than twice as large as the world average. If the world lived as we do, then overshoot day would have happened on April 19th and we would need 3.3 earth’s to provide for our daily needs.

How does this compare against other countries?

Australia has an ecological footprint half as large again as ours. If everyone lived as Australians do, then overshoot day would have happened on the 7th March and 5.4 earths would be needed to sustain us all.

Fiji’s ecological footprint is less than half ours which places overshoot day on July 30th.

This level of resource consumption is clearly not sustainable. As has been said before, we have only one earth. Not 3.3 of them.

If sustainability refers to the ability of a system to maintain production for ever, then last Monday was the day when the system we call the earth, exceeded it’s ability to regenerate resources.

The consequence is that the earth’s capacity to sustain us in the future, is reduced.

So it is that we now need to make the choice that our politicians have failed to take a lead on.  Either to continue with our consumption-led growth economy and each year, withdraw ever more from next year’s resource bank.

Or to reduce our consumption of things wanted but not needed and live within the earth’s means to supply.

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