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Overshoot Day: Living too Large on a Finite Planet (Op-Ed)

Posted by on Aug. 20, 2013 at 5:24 PM
  • 16 Replies


Expertvoices_02_ls_v2[2]

Earth, blue marble, satellite image
An image of the Earth taken by the Russian weather satellite Elektro-L No.1.
Credit: NTsOMZ

Jon Hoekstra is chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This article is adapted from one that first appeared on Hoekstra's WWF blog, Science Driven. He contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

August 20, 2013, marks Earth Overshoot day— the estimated date when the people on Earth have used up the planet's annual supply of renewable natural resources and reached its carbon-absorbing capacity. After that point, people are using more than the planet can sustain. It's a one-day reminder of a year-round problem — humans are living too large on a finite planet.

You probably have a general sense of why. The human population continues to grow. People are consuming more and more resources. And we still have only one planet. To appreciate just how large we are living in relation to our finite planet , let's look more closely at some numbers.

According to the Global Footprint Network, Earth Overshoot day became an issue around 1975. That's when humanity's ecological footprint first exceeded the biocapacity of the planet.

Before that, people's ecological footprint — measured as the area required to supply the food, fish, fiber and energy we consume every year — was within what the planet could sustain. In 1975, there were about 4.1 billion people. Today there are more than 7.3 billion. As the cumulative footprint of the population grows, Earth Overshoot Day moves two to three days earlier each year.

To get a feeling for what humanity's global footprint looks like, consider the land people use to feed themselves. People presently use 38 percent of the planet to grow crops and raise livestock (check out Navin Ramankutty's animation of global cropland for a "wow" visualization). Many of the agricultural lands are in places that were once temperate grasslands. So much habitat has been turned under by the plow that temperate grasslands are the most imperiled and least protected habitat types on the planet. Future frontiers of agricultural expansion will most likely be in the tropics as people clear high-biodiversity tropical forests to raise cattle, grow soy and install palm oil plantations.

By 2050, the human population is projected to be about 9 billion people. Over that same time, demand for food, water and energy are expected to double. If you think about today's consumption rate per billion people as a shopping cart, people are filling 7 shopping carts. Earth Overshoot Day is a reminder that such a high level of demand is already putting a huge ecological strain on our one planet. By 2050, 9 billion people will be filling twice as many carts per billion — for a total of 18 shopping carts. That's a 150-percent increase in demand!

How can society start to bend the trend to put the planet on a sustainable trajectory?

A first step is to change the mentality about how people grow food and use other natural resources like forests, water and energy resources. Instead of taking more to make more, people need to commit to making more with less. Society also needs to become passionate about efficiency — more crops per drop of water, more miles per gallon of fuel. It's a challenge that should inspire innovation and ingenuity about how people produce and use precious and finite natural resources.

Here is just one of many examples emerging around the world. The Better Cotton Initiative (a partnership that included WWF) worked with cotton farmers to improve management practices on their farms. Over five years, from 2005 to 2010, the results were dramatic — pesticide use was reduced by 60 percent, water use was reduced by 40 percent, synthetic fertilizer use was reduced by 30 percent, and the associated cost savings meant those farmers' incomes increased 15 percent to 20 percent. That's great for farmers, and for the planet, because cotton accounts for 24 percent of the world's insecticide market and 11 percent of global pesticide sales, and 73 percent of the world's cotton crop grows on irrigated land.

LINK

 


Thank God......it's Friday!!!

by on Aug. 20, 2013 at 5:24 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Friday
by HRH of MJ on Aug. 21, 2013 at 1:45 PM

Anyone?

 


Thank God......it's Friday!!!

smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:12 PM
3 moms liked this

I think we're going to go through a bit of a crunch period where resources are tight for a while and we'll have to be more creative with our agriculture. Transporting tomatoes from South America to North America in the middle of our winter is probably not the best use of our resources. Especially when you could grow tomatoes hydroponically using a lot less water. Even better, have an aquaponic system so the fish fertilize the tomatoes so you get protein and vegetables. People's pocket books are just going to have to be hit harder before they care about such things. 


LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Yeah, right.

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:54 PM

...except they're not.

Resources, that is.

Tight, that is.

If they were, there were be big money in recycling. There isn't.

Quoting smalltowngal:

I think we're going to go through a bit of a crunch period where resources are tight for a while and we'll have to be more creative with our agriculture. Transporting tomatoes from South America to North America in the middle of our winter is probably not the best use of our resources. Especially when you could grow tomatoes hydroponically using a lot less water. Even better, have an aquaponic system so the fish fertilize the tomatoes so you get protein and vegetables. People's pocket books are just going to have to be hit harder before they care about such things. 



Sisteract
by Whoopie on Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:59 PM

I agree

Quoting smalltowngal:

I think we're going to go through a bit of a crunch period where resources are tight for a while and we'll have to be more creative with our agriculture. Transporting tomatoes from South America to North America in the middle of our winter is probably not the best use of our resources. Especially when you could grow tomatoes hydroponically using a lot less water. Even better, have an aquaponic system so the fish fertilize the tomatoes so you get protein and vegetables. People's pocket books are just going to have to be hit harder before they care about such things. 



smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Aug. 21, 2013 at 4:09 PM

Well it depends on the resource and the location. Water isn't really scarce in the Midwest but you go to certain places in India, it is considered more scarce. Gold and silver scrapping has increased in the last couple of years and people are trying to smuggle gold into India because of recent laws. There is a bunch of aluminum. 

In my post, I mainly talked about food and water. I worry a little bit about oil since there are a lot of Chinese that are just starting to buy cars so that might be more of a concern in the future. 

Quoting LindaClement:

...except they're not.

Resources, that is.

Tight, that is.

If they were, there were be big money in recycling. There isn't.

Quoting smalltowngal:

I think we're going to go through a bit of a crunch period where resources are tight for a while and we'll have to be more creative with our agriculture. Transporting tomatoes from South America to North America in the middle of our winter is probably not the best use of our resources. Especially when you could grow tomatoes hydroponically using a lot less water. Even better, have an aquaponic system so the fish fertilize the tomatoes so you get protein and vegetables. People's pocket books are just going to have to be hit harder before they care about such things. 





Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Aug. 21, 2013 at 5:21 PM
Quoting LindaClement:

...except they're not.

Resources, that is.

Tight, that is.

If they were, there were be big money in recycling. There isn't.

Depends on which resource you're talking about, and which part of the planet.

Well watered fertile land is at something of a premium in many parts of the world - the soil is turning into dust and being blown away, or the water table is rapidly sinking.


Timber is another one.   There are lots of trees still, but we need them growing in forests not being cut into chopsticks.   We are re-planting, but not fast enough - the total area covered by forest is still shrinking.


And the big one is capacity to absorb pollution.  The planet is actually rather good at breaking down pollutants into things that are not so harmful, but the process takes time, and we're currently pumping junk into our environment faster that the environment can break it down, so the total level of junk is rising.

Friday
by HRH of MJ on Aug. 21, 2013 at 5:24 PM


Quoting smalltowngal:

I think we're going to go through a bit of a crunch period where resources are tight for a while and we'll have to be more creative with our agriculture. Transporting tomatoes from South America to North America in the middle of our winter is probably not the best use of our resources. Especially when you could grow tomatoes hydroponically using a lot less water. Even better, have an aquaponic system so the fish fertilize the tomatoes so you get protein and vegetables. People's pocket books are just going to have to be hit harder before they care about such things. 


You are probably right. We tend to be too lazy and corps don't want to change things while they are making money.

 


Thank God......it's Friday!!!

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Aug. 22, 2013 at 1:44 AM

There is no food shortage. There are transport (and hoarding) issues, but not shortages.

Gold and silver are both highly-controlled (like diamonds) to artificially keep prices low. 

Considering things scarce doesn't make them scarce.

Quoting smalltowngal:

Well it depends on the resource and the location. Water isn't really scarce in the Midwest but you go to certain places in India, it is considered more scarce. Gold and silver scrapping has increased in the last couple of years and people are trying to smuggle gold into India because of recent laws. There is a bunch of aluminum. 

In my post, I mainly talked about food and water. I worry a little bit about oil since there are a lot of Chinese that are just starting to buy cars so that might be more of a concern in the future. 

Quoting LindaClement:

...except they're not.

Resources, that is.

Tight, that is.

If they were, there were be big money in recycling. There isn't.

Quoting smalltowngal:

I think we're going to go through a bit of a crunch period where resources are tight for a while and we'll have to be more creative with our agriculture. Transporting tomatoes from South America to North America in the middle of our winter is probably not the best use of our resources. Especially when you could grow tomatoes hydroponically using a lot less water. Even better, have an aquaponic system so the fish fertilize the tomatoes so you get protein and vegetables. People's pocket books are just going to have to be hit harder before they care about such things. 






LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Aug. 22, 2013 at 1:45 AM

"... on a finite planet" rather suggests that it's not about regions, but the entire Earth.

Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting LindaClement:

...except they're not.

Resources, that is.

Tight, that is.

If they were, there were be big money in recycling. There isn't.

Depends on which resource you're talking about, and which part of the planet.

Well watered fertile land is at something of a premium in many parts of the world - the soil is turning into dust and being blown away, or the water table is rapidly sinking.


Timber is another one.   There are lots of trees still, but we need them growing in forests not being cut into chopsticks.   We are re-planting, but not fast enough - the total area covered by forest is still shrinking.


And the big one is capacity to absorb pollution.  The planet is actually rather good at breaking down pollutants into things that are not so harmful, but the process takes time, and we're currently pumping junk into our environment faster that the environment can break it down, so the total level of junk is rising.


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