Earth overshoot day vs reality

The consumption of resources faster than they can be replenished by the planet simply means that you are living beyond your means. (DH photos)

July 29 marked the Earth Overshoot Day for 2019.

What is Earth Overshoot Day (EOD)? This day marks that time in the year when we have consumed all the resources that this planet could have provided for that year. 

To simplify matters, if earth could provide a certain amount of resources, say ‘X’ for the calendar year 2019, it makes sense that the resources ‘X’ should be consumed by all the living creatures on this planet from January 1 to December 31, 2019. 

If you consume the limited available resources beyond December 31, that is good news for the planet. It is similar to saving money in a savings bank, those resources can be used profitably at a later date. 

However, the consumption of resources faster than they can be replenished by the planet simply means that you are living beyond your means.

The EOD was previously known as the ‘Ecological Debt Day’, the day when consumption for that year exceeded the capacity of the planet to regenerate her resources. The concept of the EOD was pioneered by Andrew Simms of the New Economic Foundation, a UK based think tank. In 2003, he was joined by Dr. Mathis Wackernagel from the Global Footprint Network. This campaign is now supported by dozens of other non-profit organisations.

Calculations showed that 1970 was the watershed year when the human race as a whole was consuming resources faster than the earth could replenish them. The EOD was on December 29 in 1970. 

Since then, barring a few exceptions, the EOD has been steadily moving closer and closer to the beginning of the year, meaning that humans are consuming resources at an increasingly quicker rate.

Critics would argue that the calculation of the EOD is made on arbitrary criteria. That is perhaps untrue because there are a number of factors that go into the calculation. These include humanity’s requirement for food, fuel, and development of infrastructure. The unit of measurement is the Global Hectare, which is a biologically productive hectare.

Very roughly, the Global Hectare (GHa) is the measurement of the productivity of the land. The data regarding the productivity of the land is obtained from the United Nations and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, both of which are fairly accurate and easily available. 

The measurement is something like this; for example, if a certain area of cropland produces an ‘X’ amount of biologically useful material, its GHa would be ‘X’. However, the same area of pastureland would produce a relatively less amount of biological product so the GHa would be relatively less (say 0.8 X). 

In 2019, there were about 12.2 GHa available on this planet. About 7.7 billion humans breezily consumed this entire amount in a little more than half the time the resources were supposed to last.

Should the fact that the EOD is coming closer and closer to the beginning of the year caution humankind to change the behavioural patterns? Yes, perhaps it should act as more than just a warning.  In less than half a century, humanity has cut, destroyed, killed and ravaged this planet with only one purpose in mind: survival of its own species at the expense of all the other species on this planet. 

The extinction of the other species is moving much faster than the basal extinction pattern and perhaps faster than the accelerated rate of extinction which was seen during the previous five mass extinctions. 

This time, the cause for this extinction is hugely different because one species is responsible for the event, something which was not seen in the previous mass extinction events.

Destructive species

It would be foolish to imagine that the earth will continue to support such a destructive species. Logically, one would expect the earth to remove this destructive species or at least bring down the numbers to a ‘manageable’ level. 

It is not implausible that this planet, rather than allowing humankind to reproduce and flourish would decide to drastically decrease the human population.

Critics will argue that it is impossible for the population of humankind to be reduced drastically. They would say that humans today have conquered most of the vagaries of nature. Sadly, this is not true. For a brief period of about a century, it appeared that there were advantages in meddling with nature. 

Unfortunately, it appears that nature has now decided to take her revenge. Rainfall patterns have changed in the last quarter of a century, to a point when water scarcity looms large. Natural disasters are occurring at a far higher frequency than ever. Organisms are rapidly developing resistance to antibiotics and humans are helpless in the face of this onslaught.

Have we already crossed the point of no return and is it likely that the EOD is going to come closer and closer to the beginning of the year? This scenario is very probable unless humans make drastic changes in their behaviour and lifestyle. Only time will tell us the consequences of humanity’s rapacious behaviour.

(The writer is Senior Consultant, Surgical Pathology and Molecular Diagnostics, Neuberg Anand Reference Laboratory, Bengaluru)

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