Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Earth Overshoot Day 2017

Think of it as an environmental equivalent of the "nuclear clock."

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date each year on which we, mankind, have squeezed more from nature than our planet, Spaceship Earth, our one and only biosphere, can produce in an entire year.

Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on August 2nd
. And how is that relevant to anything?

Last year we didn't hit overshoot until August 8th. Here's a handy video from last year that explains where we're at, where we're heading and why it matters.

Last year Overshoot arrived on August 8th. This year we've reached Overshoot on August 2nd. We've moved that calendar up by almost a week in just one year.

We're literally exhausting the planet faster and faster, year by year.  Year by year the human population grows, we passed 7.5 billion about a month ago, and our per capita consumption usually increases. There are more of us and each of us demands more. It's not a one-way street either. We demand more, we consume more but we also give back more. We give back more waste - more pollution, more devastation and we're giving that back far faster than nature, our ecological bedpan,  can handle it.

All this excess consumption doesn't come free. Most other life forms that inhabit the planet are picking up our tab.  The World Wildlife Fund, in conjunction with the London Zoological Society and other NGOs, produces the Living Planet Report, that assesses how non-human life is holding up. Hint - not good, not at all good.  Here's the introduction to last year's Living Planet Report. Brace yourself.

Global wildlife populations face a plunge of more than two-thirds during the 50-year period ending in 2020 as a result of human activities, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016. The report, produced every two years in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth’s history.

According to the report, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data. At this trajectory, the decline could reach 67 per cent by 2020.

We are indeed "overpowering the planet" and our pursuit of perpetual exponential growth has reached the point where it not only imperils mankind but most other species of terrestrial and marine life. We're eating their lunch (and breakfast and dinner) and they don't have any choice but to die off and go extinct. Yeah, humankind. We're Number One.

This probably a good point to have David Suzuki explore the perpetual exponential growth all of our politicians, the current gang, the Trudeau government included, are obsessively chasing.

Our political caste aren't chasing growth. They're stampeding us over a cliff. The vanishing wildlife is our miners' canary and it's laying in the bottom of its cage, dead. That canary does the miners no good unless they notice that it's dead. Our politicians, Justin Trudeau and Dame Cathy, his enviromin, are looking the other way.

By the way, if you need some help making sense of Overshoot, here's a handy graph that reveals the future we're carving out for ourselves.

We're roughly at the point depicted by that vertical arrow beside the word "Overshoot." The red line, our consumption and our population, is still increasing but the Earth's carrying capacity is already beginning its decline. What you see beyond that Overshoot mark is collapse.

What collapse? Nonsense. I'm still going to work, still earning a paycheque. The store shelves are still full, plenty of stuff to buy. The economy, GDP, is still growing and next year it'll be bigger still. All true but you're not looking at the canary.

You're not looking at the decline in wildlife, the Great Die Off, of terrestrial and marine animals. You're not seeing what space station crews can see with the naked eye - the deforestation, the desertification (loss of once arable land and its transformation into desert). You're not seeing the algae blooms spreading across our rivers and lakes. You're not seeing how our industrial fishing fleets are collapsing one fish stock after another as they "fish down the food chain." You're not seeing the aquifers that are being drained to prop up our agricultural production. You're not seeing any of this. What you're seeing is a pretty prime minister promising greater things, ever more stuff, tomorrow.

What is most infuriating is that while the pols in Ottawa and our provincial legislatures fiddle and the Earth consumes itself, Canadians still have choices that are slipping through our fingers unheeded by our political caste. Canada is one of just a handful of nations that clings to a small and fragile ecological surplus which is owed entirely to our huge landmass and our relatively small population. We still have options but we'll be relieved of that burden before long mainly because we would prefer not to trouble our gentle minds with visions of dead canaries.


Oh yeah, climate change? Yeah, that's still a thing too.


Toby said...

That lesson should be well understood by everyone but hardly anyone understands it. The thing about population is that every time we save a life or extend a life or figure out how to increase fertility we make the problem worse.

Mound, people our age have an historically unusual perspective on this as the world's population of humans has tripled in our life time.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not sure how many of us "get" that, Toby. There is a minority that has some sense of what's happening but I think the majority still prefers to look the other way so as not to glance at the dead canary.

To my mind, all signs point to the inescapable conclusion that we're witnessing an acceleration in our degraded ecological carrying capacity. Jared Diamond points out that civilizations that fail don't go out gradually but quite rapidly and at their zenith.

Overshoot is primarily about over consumption but overpopulation and climate change are force multipliers that compound our dilemma. Yet the most we can get out of our political caste is a bare gestural response on climate change, promises to do something eventually.

Dana said...

"In the extremely unlikely event there is a human on Earth in ten years, that person will be hungry, thirsty, lonely, and bathing in ionizing radiation. Every day will be more tenuous than the day before, as is already the case for most organisms on this planet. Habitat for human animals will return in a few million years."


The Mound of Sound said...

Dana, I avoid McPherson's dire predictions as much as possible. That's not to say hees, that w may not be right. I don't know. He could be in which case we're screwed and yet we keep making decisions for our future, how to live our livould be futile if he's correct.

Dana said...

Yeah, I hear you. But still, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. :-)

Anonymous said...

Anyong......I hear his message loud and clear.

Anonymous said...

Overpopulation talk by him?
He had asked for my comment...