Earth Overshoot Day
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Sunday August 4, 2019 – Earth Overshoot Day – July 29 has been declared Earth Overshoot Day by the Global Footprint Network. It represents the day when the people of Earth have consumed a year's worth of resources. It is used to illustrate that the world is still burning resources faster than they can be renewed meaning that if we continue down this path we will eventually run out of natural resources.
Like everything else environmental not everyone agrees with the idea that we have overshot our annual allowance of resources. In 2013 Michael Shellenberger produced an article in the journal PLOS Biology that was intended to debunk the whole thing. In a recent article in Forbes magazine he called the Global Footprint Network report "Pseudoscientific Nonsense".
Mr. Shellenberger is not a paid hack of the fossil fuel industry, he actually has pretty strong environmental qualifications including being named a "hero of the environment" by Time Magazine and winning the 2008 Green Book Award, so his statement does carry some weight. Having said that unlike most environmentalists he is squarely in the "we need nuclear energy to save us" camp.
Personally, while setting World Overshoot Day as a specific date seems like a bit of a stretch, I think that we are definitely using resources faster than we should be. The obvious one if Fossil fuels which we are using in huge quantities that will take many many thousand of years to replace. Food is a different question, we keep producing enough food to more or less feed the worlds population, and this more or less stays in equilibrium, but to keep this equilibrium we have to cut down more and more forest to make room for a constantly growing need for arable land. This means we have less forest for wood and as a major CO2 sink. They we have to worry about fish populations. We know we have overfished several populations and are now having to find new varieties or move to different sources of protean which again puts pressure on land use. Water is another thing that we are using up. We have massive supplies of water in the ocean but it isn't drinkable. Meanwhile water tables are falling all over the world putting pressure on other sources of clean water..
The truth of the matter here is that the world population is just getting too big for the planet. We are gradually displacing other species but we can only grow our population so much before we totally overstretch our resources. In the end we have to look at reducing birth rates and we have found that as prosperity increases birth rates fall. For example, according to the 2019 World Population Review, the US has a birth rate of 1.776 children per woman while our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has a birth rate of 2.14 children per woman. Basically the poorest countries, especially those from Africa, have much higher birth rates than the developed nations. Improving living standards among these countries would greatly help in keeping the world's population in check. Spending tax dollars to improve the living conditions in these countries would be a much better solution to the current immigration situation in the USA that using the dollars to build a wall.
There is another issue with population though. The Capitalist system that covers much of the worlds population relies on growth. Growth requires an ever enlarging population pool to add customers needed to keep companies growing year over year. This too is not sustainable as we will eventually run out of planet.
Energy, of course, is at the heart of building wealth in a country. A lot of the very poor nations actually have abundant sunshine but lack fossil fuels. Expanding energy availability using renewable energy sources like Wind, solar, hydro, and geo-thermal energy could easily be used to get energy poor nations to be energy rich nations. We should then see growing opportunities in these countries and a decline in birth rates bringing rapid population growth to a crawl. Nuclear energy sounds like a good replacement for fossil fuels to many as it produces no CO2. The bit problem is that what it does produce is waste products that will be radioactive for thousands of years and need to be disposed of very carefully. It is inevitable that we will eventually have an accident trying to dispose of this toxic waste which will be very detrimental to our environment.
It is clear to me that we are outgrowing Planet Earth. We either have to find a way to stop squandering precious resources or we have to find a new planet to colonize. Planetary colonization on the required scale is well beyond our current technology so we need to find a way to live with what we have and that means making better use of the resources we have available.
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