Have you ever borrowed money from your mother? You know – like for a car, or even just to make ends meet for a month?
Well, we – as in humanity – are borrowing big time from Mother Earth. In fact, every day from now till January 1 of 2014, we are borrowing all the resources we need to survive. Today marks Earth Overshoot Day, 2013. We are living too large on a finite planet – using up resources like land, air and water we may not be able to pay back.
Because they say it so eloquently, I will quote the folks over at the World Wildlife Fund:
August 20, 2013 marks Earth Overshoot Day—the estimated date when we’ve used up the Earth’s annual supply of renewable natural resources and carbon absorbing capacity. After that, we’re using more than the planet can sustain. It’s a one-day reminder of a year-round problem—we are living too large on a finite planet.
You probably have a general sense of why. Our human population continues to grow. We are consuming more and more resources. And we still have only one planet. To appreciate just how large we are living in relation to our finite planet, let’s look more closely at some numbers.
According to the Global Footprint Network (www.footprintnetwork.org) Earth Overshoot day became an issue around 1975. That’s when humanity’s ecological footprint first exceeded the “biocapacity” of the planet.
Before that, our ecological footprint—measured as the area required to supply the food, fish, fiber and energy we consume every year—was within what the planet could sustain. In 1975, there were about 4.1 billion people. Today there are more than 7.3 billion. As the cumulative footprint of our population has grown, Earth Overshoot Day happens 2-3 days earlier each year.
To get a feeling for what our global footprint looks like, consider the land we use to feed ourselves. We presently use 38% of the planet to grow crops and raise livestock. (Dirty Hippie note: If you are vegan, you use a lot less! Go vegans!)
Many of our agricultural lands are in places that were once temperate grasslands. So much habitat has been turned under by the plow, that temperate grasslands are the most imperiled and least protected habitat types on the planet. However, the future frontiers of agricultural expansion will most likely be in the tropics as people clear high biodiversity tropical forests to raise cattle, grow soy, and install palm oil plantations.
By 2050, the human population is projected to be about 9 billion people. Over that same time, demand for food, water and energy are expected to double. If you think about today’s consumption rate per billion people as a shopping cart, we are filling 7 shopping carts. Earth Overshoot Day reminds us that that level of demand is already putting a huge ecological strain on our one planet. By 2050, 9 billion people will be filling twice as many carts per billion for a total of 18 shopping carts. That’s a 150% increase in demand!
A first step is to change the mentality about how we grow food and use other natural resources like forests, water and energy resources. Instead of taking more to make more, we need to commit to making more with less. We need to become passionate about efficiency—more crops per drop of water, more miles per gallon of fuel. It’s a challenge that should inspire innovation and ingenuity about how we produce and use our precious and finite natural resources.
We hope this sobering day helps everyone look around and see what they can personally do to help pay back Mother Earth. The options are endless and each little thing you do will help. Need ideas? Go vegan, or at least eat a lot less meat. Buy local — food and goods made locally use a lot less energy. Get non-toxic cleaners, soaps and shampoos to help save our oceans. Turn off lights and unplug your cell chargers. Big spender? Get a hybrid vehicle or install wind/solar power for your home or business. And if you aren’t already recycling, upcycling and re-using all you can, shame on you!