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Earth overshoot day

Written By: - Date published: 11:20 am, August 17th, 2015 - 22 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, Globalisation, political alternatives, sustainability, water - Tags: , , ,

August 13th was Earth Overshoot Day 2015 (aka Ecological Debt Day). Read all about it:

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that coordinates research, develops methodological standards and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in 2015: (Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day

Or putting it more simply:

Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest. This overshoot leads to a depletion of Earth’s life-supporting natural capital and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

See further coverage in for example Time (How Humans Used Up a Year of Natural Resources In Under 9 Months) and National Geographic (We’ve Consumed More Than the Earth Can Produce This Year).

It should be obvious by now that this is a problem that our current political and economic systems cannot solve.

earth overshoot day 2015

22 comments on “Earth overshoot day ”

  1. esoteric pineapples 1

    It’s basically a case of the parent eating their young, like in Greek myth.

    “Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children.” – Wikipedia

  2. Rosie 2

    How tragic. Made even more tragic by the fact that we if we were smarter at production and consumption we wouldn’t be depleting our resources beyond their capacity to regenerate.

    Theres so many examples, using coal for energy springs immediately to mind but another one is palm oil production. We just don’t need palm oil and the earth just can’t take the destruction of it rainforests in S.E Asia. Rain forests are cleared and burnt off for extensive palm plantations. The loss of forests is devastating to animals that live in the forest, Orang-utans for example, who are not ground dwellers and can only live and tree tops and source all their food from there. Mothers die searching for food for their babies and the babies are orphaned or die waiting for their mothers.

    Another dimension to deforestation is landslides in monsoon countries – and climate change itself is affecting the very precise patterns of the monsoon, affecting humans and other animals dependence on monsoon food crops. Droughts equals death, excess deluge equals death.

    All so avoidable if we weren’t so stupid and greedy combined with the total lack of will from our governments to take any serious action

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Humans or Climate Change: So who killed mammoths and other biggies?

      “The abrupt warming of the climate caused massive changes to the environment that set the extinction events in motion, but the rise of humans applied the coup de grace to a population that was already under stress,” Professor Chris Turney from the University of New South Wales said in July.

      That conclusion was reached as a result of pattern analysis of ancient DNA carried out by the Australian researchers. Global rainfall and vegetation pattern shifts were only exacerbated by human activity, according to the study.

      Whichever version of events is actually true, both studies sharply counter the view that humans ever lived in harmony with nature – a conclusion stressed by the Exeter scientists.

      Our greed seems to have been the harbinger of death over these many millennia.

      • Rosie 2.1.1

        From the “humans did it” view:

        “The scientists looked at thousands of various scenarios which all led to humans in the end. They arrived at their results by mapping every possible time period each of the animals is believed to have gone extinct and crossed that with the time humans had arrived on continent or island they inhabited.

        “As far as we are concerned, this research is the nail in the coffin of this 50-year debate – humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of megafauna,” Lewis Bartlett of the University of Exeter says.”

        If this is the case then we are bloody slow learners. It’s like we’re hard wired to destroy and dominate even if that puts our very own survival at risk.

  3. vto 3

    Was reading an old National Geographic from 2011 last evening. It had a piece about the PETP (or some such acronym), an instant 25 million years ago when CO2 levels shot up super quick. Seas rose by 70-odd metres, the world heated up to an average 77F (poles were like the subtropics), and all hell broke loose with the flora and fauna.

    The article also said the already recorded upturn currently in CO2 currently being measured will result in CO2 being released far faster than that PTEP time.

    Meaning ……………….

  4. infused 4

    Yet no one wants to discuss population control.

  5. johnm 5

    ” Perhaps the single keenest insight Catton had is that humans have become detritovores, organisms that live off the dead remains of other organisms. By this he meant the human dependence on fossil fuels which are the ancient dead remains of organisms transformed into oil, natural gas and coal. ”

    ” It is the fate of detritovore populations to expand and contract with their supply of detritus. He likened modern humans to algae feeding on the rich surplus of nutrients from dead organic matter swept into a pond by spring rains and often multiplying so as to cover the entire pond with a green carpet. By summer, with the rush of spring nutrients depleted–nutrients which are like the one-time infusion of fossil fuels into human society–the algae population crashes, leaving mostly open water and sometimes just an uneven ribbon along the edge of the pond. It is a boom-bust population cycle well-known to biologists. ”

    ” Overshoot may stand as the central text of the 20th century about the ecological fate of humankind. The book represents a missed opportunity in that so few people were able to hear what Catton had to say in 1980, and so few want to hear it now–even as the headlines are filled with the very precursors of the bottleneck he laments in his last major piece of writing ”


  6. SPC 6

    No worries.

    1. The battery.

    The battery enables solar panels on homes. And we are getting them insulated. And then battery powered cars/buses going mainstream.

    2. Taking the third world out of poverty will reduce birth rates and establish peak population. And by then they will not be consuming carbon either – see 1.

    3. We get a solar decline in the 2030s that holds the line for a while on rising temperature so we can wait for 1 and 2 to kick in.

    And if that turns out to be too optimistic, there is 4.

    4. Next generation nuclear power.

    • weka 6.1

      We don’t have the infrastructure to replace fossil fuels with solar without using fossil fuels to do so. We also don’t have the time replace fossil fuels with solar without using fossil fuels.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1

        We don’t have the infrastructure to replace fossil fuels with solar without using fossil fuels to do so.

        Yes we do. Well, in NZ we do. Other places maybe not.

        • weka

          No we don’t. We’re currently importing most of our solar (and don’t get me started on what we are doing with spent batteries). We don’t have the factories here, and most solar globally is being made with ff. You might be thinking about power supply. I’m thinking the whole of production, and cradle to grave.

          • Draco T Bastard

            I’m thinking the whole of production, and cradle to grave.

            Yep, so am I.

            We could stop using fossil fuels tomorrow and build up the capability to produce solar panels in a few years using the renewable generation that we already have.

            Even if we didn’t have that renewable generation we’d be able to build up the capability to produce solar panels using the knowledge that we have and do it without fossil fuels – it’d just take longer.

            • weka

              Yes, so we don’t have the infrastructure currently. But I’d like to see your analysis of how we would build the factories to make solar panels and batteries without using fossil fuels. That’s not using fossil fuels to build the facories. Or mine the materials. Or ship them etc. I’m not talking about power generation alone (although I’d also be interested to see the analysis of transitioning NZ down to 70% or whatever our renewable power generation currently is), I’m talking about the whole of production, cradle to grave.

              • Draco T Bastard

                But I’d like to see your analysis of how we would build the factories to make solar panels and batteries without using fossil fuels.

                All you’re doing is showing your ignorance and desire not to be wrong but if you insist:

                1. Mine iron and copper by hand as it’s been done for thousands of years
                2. Process it by hand as it’s been done for thousands of years
                3. Use that copper and steel to produce power generating wind turbines. They won’t be the best but they will work
                4. Use that power to speed up the mining and processing of the ore
                5. Rinse and repeat for each necessary component

                Transport the materials using oxen, horses and sailing ships.

                As I’ve told you for months you’re wrong about the need to use fossil fuels.

                although I’d also be interested to see the analysis of transitioning NZ down to 70% or whatever our renewable power generation currently is

                Why would we transition down? The best option is to transition across. Build 100 5MW wind turbines out in the Hauraki Gulf and another 400 just off the coast around the country and shut down Huntly. Build up mining and processing of the rare earths and other needed minerals and then build a factory to produce solar panels. Before then we import them also shutting down fossil fuelled power generation as we go.

                The most important bit would be to stop the use of cars but we do that as we get public transport up to speed – public transport that’s powered by electricity.

                I figure that we could be off fossil fuels completely by 2050. Just need a government willing to engage the people in some hard work.

                • weka

                  “As I’ve told you for months you’re wrong about the need to use fossil fuels.”

                  But you’re still not listening to what I am actually saying. I haven’t said it’s not technically possible (and I can easily think of the kind of theoretical scenarios you’ve just described, so fuck off with your demeaning smears). But you haven’t provided an analysis of how that could happen in the timeframes we have without using fossil fuels. Real world examples. For instance, please describe how NZ would source and smelt the steel needed to build solar factories, and transport it without using fossil fuels, this year. Or even this decade. Where is the steel coming from? Where would it be smelted? What carbon neutral transport would be used?

                  I’d also like to see how the steel would be mined and smelted by hand to meet the demand of the kind that SPC is talking about (who doesn’t appear to be talking about reducing car use btw, which is why I responded to them in the way I did. We are talking about replacing fossil fuels with solar, BAU. It doesn’t work).

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Where is the steel coming from? Where would it be smelted?

                    Perhaps you’ve heard of Glenbrook Steel Mill? It’d take some reconfiguration to get it totally fossil fuel free but it and the renewable power generation we already have is a massive boost.

                    For instance, please describe how NZ would source and smelt the steel needed to build solar factories, and transport it without using fossil fuels, this year.

                    Why this year? I’ve never said that it could be done immediately. I’ve always said that we could build up the capability with the knowledge we have over time.

                    We are talking about replacing fossil fuels with solar, BAU.

                    BAU is impossible and I’ve always said that too.

                    (and I can easily think of the kind of theoretical scenarios you’ve just described, so fuck off with your demeaning smears)

                    You’ll keep getting them if I have to keep telling you why you’re wrong about the same bloody thing.

                    • weka

                      Well done Draco, keep it up, talking to yourself and ignoring what I am actually saying.

                      Meanwhile, I’ll restate my argument for the third, and in this conversation, final time.

                      SPC says no worries about overshoot because we can use solar panels and batteries to power our homes and transport, BAU. The developing world can too. (and hey, nuclear power). I say two things in response to this,

                      1. we don’t have the infrastructure to do that without using fossil fuels

                      2. we don’t have the time to do that using solar (i.e. build factories to make solar panels using solar). unless we use fossil fuels.

                      Peak oil theory for as long as I’ve been reading it (a couple of decades) has always been about the relationships between finite resources and economics and time. Climate change puts added pressure onto the time component.

                      When you’ve piped up and said, yes we can!, I’ve asked for analyses to demonstrate that. Not naming x steel mill, but looking at the actual cradle to grave processes involved and demonstrating how they could be done without using fossil fuels. You haven’t done that. You’ve instead theorised that technically we could this, but as far as I can tell, it’s an ideas thing rather than looking at the real world limits around time and resources and physics.

                      “Why this year?”

                      So put it in your own time frame (I did say this decade as well, but you chose to ignore that). If you can’t put it in a time frame you are ignoring two of the key components here, PO and AGW.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      1. Which particular ‘we’ are you talking about because NZ does.
                      2. Which particular time frame are you talking about? Obviously Peak Oil doesn’t apply if we’re not using fossil fuels.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      Peak oil applies to the process of transition off fossil fuels. The main question being: are we going to leave fossil fuels before they leave us?

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