The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By David Korten
Four days after President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) reported that Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on Aug. 2. Most Americans likely have no idea what that means.
The basic point is quite simple: From Jan. 1 to Aug. 2, the world's 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth's biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. During the remaining five months of 2017, our human consumption will be drawing down Earth's reserves of fresh water, fertile soils, forests and fisheries, and depleting its ability to regenerate these resources as well as sequester excess carbon released into the atmosphere.
Stated slightly differently, humans are depleting living Earth's capacity to support life.
The GFN methodology can also generate an ecological footprint for individual cities, states and nations, based on the burden each generates relative to its local biocapacity. It can also compare a personal footprint generated by a distinctive lifestyle to both national and global averages.
The U.S. has a relatively abundant per capita biocapacity compared to most other nations. We are also one of the world's highest per capita consumers. Consequently, the net outcome is a total national biocapacity deficit second only to that of China—a country with a population roughly four times ours.
Knowing that, collectively, the world is consuming far more than the planet can sustain, how do we bring ourselves into balance with Earth's capacities? GFN outlines four critical global priorities:
Humanity's carbon energy use accounts for 60 percent of the global ecological footprint. By GFN's estimate, "Reducing the carbon component of the global Ecological Footprint by 50 percent would get us from consuming the resources of 1.7 Earths down to 1.2 Earths, or move the date of Overshoot Day forward by 89 days, or about three months." That would place Overshoot Day on October 30.
"We cannot ignore population growth if we are truly committed to people having secure lives in a world of finite resources," noted Susan Burns, GFN co-founder. She urges empowering women and assuring that every child is wanted. By GFN's analysis, reducing the current global average family size by half a child would push back Overshoot Day by 31 days.
By GFN's calculation, sourcing food locally, avoiding highly processed foods, reducing meat consumption and cutting food waste by half could move Overshoot Day forward by 11 days.
GFN estimates that increasing the energy efficiency of the urban built environment through measures such as efficient mass transit could advance Overshoot Day by two days.
If we achieved all four of these priorities, we would bring Overshoot Day to Dec. 13 and almost be in balance with Earth's capacity to sustain us.
There is considerable truth to the adage that we can manage only what we measure. Measure the wrong thing, and the consequences can be catastrophic.
Unfortunately, our governments currently invest heavily in reporting financial indicators, such as gross domestic product, that tell us little either about actual human well-being or our long-term viability on Earth. In measuring the right things, GFN shatters the illusions of such measures and analyses. Still, we need a more clear, complete and coherent reporting and analysis of the global footprint measurements than the GFN offers.
The responsibility for such statistical gathering and reporting should fall, not to a small non-profit, but rather to the United Nations and the statistical services of the world's national governments. Producing detailed global footprint measurements, reporting and analysis should be among the top priorities of such official agencies. That will be a far greater contribution to national and global well-being than the grossly misleading economic indicators to which they now devote the bulk of their resources.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
'This is a Sick Statement': Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Under Pressure for Anti-Environmental Policies, Blames NGOs for Record Amazon Fires
'Work Together' or 'Destroy it': Goldman Prize Winner Francia Márquez on World's Second Deadliest Country For Environmental Activists
In April 2018, Afro-Colombian activist Francia Márquez won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, thanks to her work to retake her community's ancestral territories from illegal gold mining. However, her international recognition comes at a very risky price.
By Stuart Braun
A year after activist Greta Thunberg first stood in the rain outside the Swedish parliament with her now iconic "Skolstrejk för klimatet" — school strike for the climate — placard, the movement she spawned has set the tone for environmental protest action around the world.
Toy maker Hasbro wants to play in the eco-packaging game. The board game giant will ditch its plastic packaging by 2022. The move means that games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Operation will no longer have shrink wrap, window sheets, plastic bags or elastic bands, as the Associated Press reported.
By Jessica Corbett
Pointing to the deaths of more than half a billion bees in Brazil over a period of just four months, beekeepers, experts and activists are raising concerns about the soaring number of new pesticides greenlighted for use by the Brazilian government since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January — and the threat that it poses to pollinators, people and the planet.
By Elliott Negin
On July 19, President Trump hosted Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their families, along with the family of their deceased colleague Neil Armstrong, at a White House event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon.