Humanity has already used up this year’s allowance of natural resources including clear air, soil and water with ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ occurring this Monday according to a report by the Global Footprint Network (GFN). This date marks when humanity’s demand for these ecological resources exceed what the earth can regenerate within the year. By maintaining this deficit, stocks of ecological resources are depleted and increasing levels of waste – primarily carbon dioxide – are released into the atmosphere. Having fallen on the earliest date ever, moving up by over 2 months in the past 20 years, the equivalent of 1.75 planets would be required to produce enough to sustain humanity’s need at the current global consumption rates. The date is specifically worked out by dividing the planet’s biocapacity with humanity’s ecological footprint and multiplying by the number of days in the year.
The GFN commented on the day stating: “The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, or the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter leads to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events.” The Founder of GFN personally spoke: “We have only got one Earth this is the ultimately defining context for human existence. We can’t use 1.75 (earths) without destructive consequences.”
María Carolina Schmidt Zaldívar, Minister of Environment for Chile, and chair of the Climate COP25 scheduled this December in Santiago de Chile, also spoke in response to the day: “With Earth Overshoot Day occurring ever earlier in the year, and a big part of it being the growing amounts of CO2 emissions, the importance of decisive action is becoming ever more evident.”
The symbolism of the day, alongside these reactions and comments highlights the damaging effects of our overconsumption and subsequent exploitation of the planets natural resources. If we are to truly reflect and challenge our damaging levels of overconsumption however, an incredibly important dimension must be recognised in that certain countries consume far more of the planets resources than others. To illustrate this issue: in 2006 15.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions were produced by the U.S. per capita compared to 1.1 tonnes in India. If the world’s population consumed the natural resources and produced as much waste as the US, it would take 5 Earths to sustainably meet those needs.
Therefore, when we speak about reducing consumption levels and carbon emissions, we are predominately looking towards western countries to do so. These countries are the ones that have emitted large amounts of carbon emissions in order to industrialize and satisfy rising standards of living, whilst developing countries have been left to suffer the effects of these excessive carbon emissions – being increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. Questions surrounding climate justice and ‘fair shares’ become prevalent here. The stark warning of Earth Overshoot Day highlights the need for juristic action to be taken, yet countries like the US or Australia fail to recognise the unsustainable demand of natural resources they have created and continue to do so – both countries carbon emissions are continuing to rise, the US by 3.4% in 2018.
In response, the Global Footprint Network has suggested various solutions that will allow us to ‘move back’ the Earth Overshoot Day, with many focusing on decarbonising economies, cutting back on driving and the production and consumption of various foods – such as meat. Whilst these solutions come at a cost, western countries must perhaps begin to sacrifice their GDP and the wealthiest lavish standards of living whilst investing large amounts of state money in order to effectively tackle climate change.
Earth Overshoot Day highlights the central problem of overconsumption that’s unsustainability puts a strain on the earth and in turn fuels climate change. Looking at this in relation to uneven contributions to our environmental issues and the injustice of this, it seems that an equitable solution must urgently be found. Stressing the importance of a united global response to climate change, it seems the brunt and cost of this response should be taken by the western countries which have benefited most from the ecologically damaging effects of industrialisation and growth.
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