Every natural system has a finite renewable resource budget and planet Earth is no different. Exceed this budget and the system goes into “overdraft”. In the case of the environment, we call this ecological overshoot.
When the Earth is in overshoot it means we (the human race) are not only (i) using resources faster than they can be replenished but (ii) that we are also damaging the system’s ability to produce renewable resources and this therefore results in a nett decrease in the resource budget available year on year.
This year, Earth Overshoot Day falls on 22 August, 2020. This means that on this day we have used up ALL the resources that the planet can sustainably produce in a year. That means for the remaining 131 days (35%) of the year, the human population will be irreparably damaging the long-term life-sustaining ability of the planet through the consumption of now non-renewable resources.
The 2020 date is actually three weeks later than in 2019 due to the impact from COVID-19-induced lockdowns around the world. Although this is not as a result of the sustainable changes we as a global citizenry should be striving for, perhaps the significant reduction in air pollution and increase in awareness of wildlife around us during the global lockdown will hopefully give many people the opportunity to witness the terrible impact ‘business as usual” has on the planet… and hopefully many will be inspired to make lifestyle changes and a difference going forward.
A world where humanity lives on our planet’s ecological budget by design rather than by disaster is one where all thrive within the means of Earth.
The graphic above is a powerful visual representation of when World Overshoot Day (WOD) would be reached if everyone in the world consumed at the rate of the average person of the countries represented. At the top of the list of resource consumption is Qatar – if we all consumed at the rate of the average Qatari, WOD would be the 11 February. United States would be 14 March, United Kingdom 14 May, China 13 June, South Africa 8 July.
How is it possible, you may be asking, that in a finite system we can use more resources than are available? The answer is:
- We are tapping into ancient resources that the planet laid down (in credit) when the human population was insignificant. These resources laid down in the form of fossil fuels.
- Unfortunately, it is not only resources that the Earth was holding in credit but sadly through the current over-exploitation of our forests and oceans.
The unfortunate consequence of unsustainable over exploitation is the loss of biodiversity, which is the very fabric that holds life on Earth together.
The quality and value of a manufactured fabric is directly related to the “thread count”. Biodiversity is like a fabric – where each thread is a linkage between two species. Each species representing many hundreds of “threads” between other species. These “threads” crisscross and weave between each other creating the tight weave of an expensive fabric. With the loss of each species, the cloth loses hundreds of “threads” to the point where the loss of species becomes so severe that the fabric is so weak it tears and is no longer of any value. Evidence of this can be seen in the accelerated loss of topsoil, pollution, desertification, starvation and disease.
The current COVID-19 global pandemic is a direct result of the cumulative effect of unsustainable exploitation and if we do not make changes in line with sustainable resource utilization these will become more frequent global events.