Earth dies faster this year!

As on 13th August 2015, on Earth Overshoot Day, the humans of world have spent resources of the Earth by more than 50 per cent the Earth can renew for this year

In 2000, the Earth Overshoot Day fell in early October. This year it has moved ahead to 13th August. To maintain the consumption and lifestyle patterns of one Earth, we are consuming resources of One and Half Earth. The Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank that leads the global drive to monitor Earth Overshoot, has just come up with this figure. If business as usual continues in the way we are dealing with climate change impacts, it may move further ahead to end of June by the year 2030.

Global Footprint Network tracks humanity’s demand on the planet (Ecological Footprint) against nature’s ability to provide for this demand (biocapacity). Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

In simple terms, as on 13th August 2015 the humans of world have spent resources of the Earth by more than 50 per cent the Earth can renew for this year. At this rate, we would need one and half Earth to support our current demands.

The costs of this ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day, in the form of deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter will significantly amplify the former, if current climate models are correct. Consequently, government decision-makers who factor these growing constraints in their policy making will stand a significantly better chance to set their nation’s long-term economic performance on a favorable track.

“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s, which is when the world went into ecological overshoot. It remains the fastest growing component of the widening gap between the Ecological Footprint and the planet’s biocapacity,” said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network and the co-creator of the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric. “The global agreement to phase out fossil fuels that is being discussed around the world ahead of the Climate Summit in Paris would significantly help curb the Ecological Footprint’s consistent growth and eventually shrink the Footprint.”

The carbon footprint is inextricably linked to the other components of the Ecological Footprint — cropland, grazing land, forests and productive land built over with buildings and roads. All these demands compete for space. As more is being demanded for food and timber products, fewer productive areas are available to absorb carbon from fossil fuel. This means carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere rather than being fully absorbed.

This year’s opportunity is perhaps the last opportunity –

This is a decisive year in climate negotiations. A new climate agreement is expected at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 this December. The agreement is supposed to focus on maintaining global warming within the 2-degrees-Celsius range over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This shared goal will require nations to implement policies to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2070, per the recommendations of the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), directly impacting the Ecological Footprints of nations.

Assuming global carbon emissions are reduced by at least 30 percent below today’s levels by 2030, in keeping with the IPCC’s suggested scenario, Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back on the calendar to September 16, 2030 (assuming the rest of the Footprint would continue to expand at the current rate), according to Global Footprint Network.

However, in a business as usual approach, the world would be eating up resources equivalent to two planets by 2030 and that would mean the Earth Overshoot Day moving up on the calendar to the end of June. The image above says it better (Source: Global Footprint Network).

This projection assumes that biocapacity, population growth and consumption trends remain on their current trajectories. However, it is not clear whether a sustained level of overuse is possible without significantly damaging long-term biocapacity, with consequent impacts on consumption and population growth.

India needs to change the way it is growing –

According to data generated by the Global Footprint Network, it will take resources of double the size of India to support India at the current level of consumption. We can’t sustain such growth models and consumption patterns anymore. We sincerely want India to take strong measures to cut its ecological footprints and go for greener growth models.

As the third largest Green House Gas (GHG) emitter of the world, we are still better than many countries in terms of our lifestyles and consumption patterns. According to reports, Japan would need five and half countries of its size to meet consumption requirements. Similarly, China and UK would require almost three countries of their respective sizes to meet their current consumption levels.

Majority of Indians, especially the rural folks and forest dwellers, are known for their traditional eco-friendly lifestyles. However, the urban India is growing fast in a highly GHG emitting lifestyle. India needs to learn from its villages, preserve forests, conserve water bodies and rivers, promote traditional irrigation and ecological agriculture more urgently than ever before.

Water Initiatives Odisha, a leading network in India that works on water, environment and climate change issues and in which I am associated, has joined this drive with Global Footprint Network this year to raise awareness on the Earth Overshoot Day. Hope things will start looking positive and we are better prepared by December for Paris.

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