By George P. Nassos
The media’s major environmental issue today is climate change, and this is justifiable since carbon emissions are continuing to increase. At the rate we are going, we are not going to meet the 2030 goal of carbon reduction nor are we going to meet the 2050 temperature target. However, there are other environmental issues that we need to address, one of which is the overconsumption of our natural resources.
The Global Footprint Network (GFN), originally called Redefining Progress, has been conducting research on the ecological footprint and biocapacity, which measure the quantity of natural resources we use and how much we have. These tools aim at bringing ecological limits to the center of decision-making. They estimate the supply and demand of biological resources across six land use types: forests, fishing grounds, croplands, grazing lands, developed lands, and the area of forest required to offset human carbon emissions.
Around 1960, the consumption of these natural resources was about 50% of the earth’s biocapacity. About 20 years later, we were consuming 100% of the resources; in other words, we were using one earth. A metric that GFN uses to note how we are doing is Earth Overshoot Day. It is the day in the year that we will have consumed the biological resources that will be generated in that calendar year. That means, around 1980, Earth Overshoot Day was December 25, 1980, but it has since been earlier and earlier every year and is now August 1, 2023. We are currently consuming the equivalent of 1.7 earths.
If one looks at the annual change of Earth Overshoot Day, you will note how it has gotten to be earlier every year than the previous except for one exception, 2020. This was the year of Covid-19 which had an impact on everyone’s lifestyle, including the consumption of biological resources. It was also the year that carbon emissions reduced, water consumption decreased, and the population growth slowed down. As mentioned in an earlier article, it was a message from God telling us that we can have a decent life without destroying the living earth He provided for us.
So, what can we do to reverse Earth Overshoot Day and make it later and later each year? Let’s look at who is the greatest at fault. In terms of the consumed biological footprint in acres per capita, the top consuming countries are Luxembourg, Aruba, Qatar, Australia, United States and Canada. However, both Australia and Canada have a much greater biocapacity than what is being consumed. The data that probably are of most interest is the total deficit by country as opposed to the deficit per capita. In this case, China, United States and India are far ahead of any other countries with China being 2 ½ times more than the United States and the United States being almost twice that of India.
The single most important issue of over consumption is waste. Here in the U.S. we waste over 30% of the food that is produced. People tend to buy more food than will be consumed because it requires less trips to the grocery store. When it sits in the refrigerator for too long of a period, it will spoil and be thrown out. Sometimes twice as much food is bought than is needed because the grocery store offers two for one. Part of the blame can also be attributed to the grocery store as it will order more food than necessary from the producers. The grocery store doesn’t want to be caught short of certain food items as it could disappoint the customer. So again, this food will be thrown out if it comes close to the expiration date. Some grocery stores, however, will send the old food to a food pantry for the underprivileged.
The waste in the U.S. is an example of the problem in the developed countries. It turns out, however, that the developing countries also waste about 30% of the grown food. But in this case, it is not wasted on purpose like is done in the U.S. The waste is the result of the poor infrastructure. In the developing countries, there is the problem of a lack of refrigeration and a lack of transportation to get the food from the fields to the eventual customer.
There are several other ways we can delay Earth Overshoot Day. We should adopt more sustainable agricultural practices such as indoor farming that consumes much less water and can operate 12 months per year. Individuals should become more aware of the problem and purchase eco-friendly and locally produced food.
The data that we must really look at are the global consumption of natural resources versus the biocapacity of the world. Globally we are consuming 6.63 acres per capita annually while the biocapacity is only 3.93 acres per capita. These numbers are based on 2012 data, but today we are continuing to consume the equivalent of 1.7 earths. And if we experience more floods like those that took place recently in Libya and Greece, it could reduce the biocapacity of the earth and make Earth Overshoot Day earlier in the year.