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Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
Resources used up this year
This year, humanity used up its annual "allotment" of renewable resources on Sept. 27. Dubbed Earth Overshoot Day by the Global Footprint Network (GFN) and its member organization nef (New Economics Foundation), Sept. 27 was the day on paper when humanity began adding to its ecological debt.
The concept is a way of understanding more clearly exactly how quickly the world's renewable resources are being depleted.
Nature, of course, can only produce so much. As a result, every year since 1970, all the people on Earth — now approaching 7 billion — have lived on credit for part of the year.
According to GFN, each year humans need 1.2 to 1.5 earths to fulfill their demand on resources. Every year, human consumption exceeds the earth's capacity to provide it.
A clearer understanding of human consumption must include many related issues — global warming, climate change, carbon footprints and consumption — as well as the fact that consuming takes place in real time. This way of thinking puts the global economic crisis into sharp relief.
A global economic recovery depends ultimately on a sufficient supply of resources for human needs. But when both the world economy and the world ecology enter into debt, the combined effects may become unpredictably difficult.
What needs reconsideration is the way economists analyze issues of food, jobs and profits. Up to now, most economic measures have failed to consider the ongoing depletion of natural wealth and its future impact on the economy.
As fish stocks, forests and farmland continue to disappear, the Earth's capacity to regenerate biological materials is gradually decreasing. As this weaker bio-capacity accumulates, a point may be reached when resources can no longer renew themselves.
Those naysayers who continue to doubt the existence of global warming need to address these more complex patterns of human consumption and their effects on the environment. Earth Overshoot Day is one way to rethink these relations.
The combination of increased global population, weakened natural resources, tottering economies, and higher consumption goes beyond a debate about hotter summers. It goes to the root causes of the current global crisis in economics and ecology.
For governments, these issues need to be addressed together. For individuals, there is a greater need to reduce consumption.
The possibility of individuals having an impact was underscored this summer in Japan, as individuals demonstrated that they could reduce energy usage and consumption when demand threatened to outstrip power supplies. That offers hope that humanity will not have to live in resource debt forever.