Aug. 22 marks an unwelcome anniversary for all of us this year. Based on detailed calculations by the Global Footprint Network, Aug. 22 is this year’s Earth Overshoot Day (footprintnetwork.org/). That’s the date when humanity has cumulatively exceeded this year’s budget of what nature has the capacity to renew in 2020. From Aug. 22 onward, we’re living in ecological debt, eating into our children’s and grandchildren’s future natural capital.
Earth Overshoot Day is a symbolic but useful way for us to try to visualize the pickle we’re in. Every country has its own unique Overshoot Day, based on its national level of consumption and energy use. In the U.S., our national pickle is indeed a big one. With only 4 percent of the world’s population, we exceeded our national share of the ecological budget this year by mid-March. That is, we used up in less than a quarter of the year – what would be our share for the whole year. Nature’s bounty is large, but it is not infinite.
If that was our own household, imagine spending our whole year’s income by mid-March? Maybe we could borrow our way out of that bind and go into debt for a year, or two. Maybe. But year after year, decade after decade? At some point, wouldn’t we be wise to develop a more livable budget and start living within our actual means? Isn’t that what we try to teach our children?
We must confront the inevitable unsustainability, injustice and plain foolishness of insisting on living like we have two, three, four, five planets to draw from. We now have the data and the tools to understand that we exist in a closed system, as well as the consequences of pretending we don’t. We have only this one beautiful, but bounded, home. Our religions have always asked of us – knowing what we know, and believing what we believe – how then should we live? Humanity’s future, if there will be one, hangs on our answer.
Rita Webb of Tomahawk
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