Sunday, October 22, 2006

Living beyond our means

This year, our planet began living beyond its means on October 9th. This according to calculations by the Global Footprint Network. They have designated October 9th as this year’s “World Overshoot Day” – the day we humans have used up all the resources that the planet can naturally replace in a year.

The idea behind their calculation is this: the planet can re-grow a certain number of trees each year. If in a given year we cut down more than that number, we start to borrow from the next year’s tree crop. The same principle applies to pollution – the planet can absorb a certain amount of carbon dioxide in a year. Once we exceed that amount, we’re basically passing along the absorption job to next year. If you take all these factors and add them up, you get our ecological footprint. October 9th is the day our collective footprint exceeded the capacity of the planet to sustain it.

But we can’t just stop using resources, so we’ll basically have to “borrow” about another 30% of the planet’s annual resource budget just to see us through the end of the year. It’s exactly like a family who spends all income by October 9th, and has to borrow a third of a year’s pay just to get through the year.

Sure, a family can get into this kind of jam for a year or two and survive, but this kind of deficit borrowing can’t work for very long. It doesn’t work on a planetary scale either. Sooner or later we have to pay the piper.

Unfortunately, we humans have been running an ecological deficit for some time now. The Global Footprint Network’s data goes back to 1987 when the World Overshoot Day was December 19th. That means in 1987 we only had to borrow about 3%. Nearly 20 years later, we not only haven’t solved the deficit problem, but we’re now borrowing 30%. And the really scary part is how quickly we went from 3% to 30%.

And we are starting to pay the piper –rising sea levels, more catastrophic weather, spreading disease…you know, the price for global warming.

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