Pushing EOD back just by 5 days annually will get Earth out of ‘overshoot’ by 2050.
August 1 was marked the Earth Overshoot Day (EOD, previously Ecological Debt Day) this year. It implies the humanity consumed natural resources (forest/crop/grazing lands, water, clean air, fishing areas, built-up structures) a day earlier than what the Earth’s ecosystem can provide for the entire year; EOD fell on August 2 last year. This is a rather less understood fact, though very serious, and responsible for climate change, more droughts, heavy floods (Kerala is the latest case in point), wildfires and hurricanes.
To understand the concept, we must know how EOD is worked out. For this, we divide the world’s biodiversity (the amount of natural resources generated by the Earth in a particular year) by the ecological footprint (the humanity’s demand of the Earth’s natural resources for that year), and multiply by 365—the number of days in one Gregorian calendar year. From an economic perspective, EOD represents the day the humanity enters ecological deficit spending. This is bad news for the Earth and this is what EOD is all about.
Why is it happening? The answer is simple. It is because of excessive consumption and, consequently, increasing waste, especially by rich nations. It is established that the world would need five Earths to sustain the lifestyle of the US and some other countries in this category, and only 0.7 Earth if the world follows India’s lifestyle. The Global Footprint Network (GFN)—the think tank that calculated EOD—has asserted that, at the current rate of consumption and waste generation, the humanity needs equivalent to 1.7 Earths, and we are on course to require resources of two Earths by 2030. It estimated 70% countries are living beyond their means. The threshold limit got crossed in the early 1970s, when human consumption started exceeding what the Earth could reproduce. The GFN took into account two factors: (1) The Earth’s capacity for carbon sequestration, and (2) how much food and other natural resources can grow in a year. Their findings have been supported by many reputed research institutions.
So, what kind of sustainable development are policy-makers, administrators and planners talking about? When will the rich change their outlook and shun the idea that ‘the business of business is only business’? These are unanswered questions. Our economies are running Ponzi schemes on our planet; these run for some time and benefit some, and then close down. We need to recognise that we can’t keep infinite growth on a finite planet. There are some interesting suggestions, based on scientific studies, to move back EOD, to reverse the trend:
– Take carbon out of your commute: If the carbon component of the ecological footprint is reduced by 50%, it is estimated that EOD can move back by 93 days. For this, one needs to switch from four-wheelers to two-wheelers, or use a bicycle. If pedalling is not your living, travel by public transport or use car-pooling services.
– Strive for zero-waste: The strain on the Earth’s resources increases if we buy more stuff and then waste. Calculations show that if food wastage is reduced by 50%, EOD may move back by 11 days.
– Eat lesser meat and more veggies: By reducing meat consumption by 50%, EOD would move back by six days. Livestock-related activities use more global land than anything else, and account for 15% GHG emissions produced by humans, according to the UN. Thus, moving to a more plant-based diet is a great help.
– Tread lightly when you travel by air: One can reduce the ecological footprint by avoiding long air trips and by choosing fuel-efficient airlines.
– Stabilise population growth: If families had one child less, we would move back EOD by 30 days, by 2050.
In conclusion, there is now sufficient historical and scientific evidence available that EOD is constantly moving up the calendar. The GFN has stated that the damage can be reversed, and that pushing the date back just by five days annually would get the Earth out of ‘overshoot’ by 2050. Can’t we do it? In such a distressing scenario, should we sit silent and do nothing for the sake of our future generations?
The author is former ISS and a UN consultant