According to estimates from the international research organization, Global Footprint Network, today marks that day of the year when human impact and demands on the planet begin to exceed what Earth can support.
Basically, we’ve already spent our environmental budget for 2011. Imagine not eating for the next three months. Not consuming, or producing, or throwing anything away. The entire human race and all our systems in a state of suspended animation from now until the end of the year. That’s how far from sustainable our demands and impact on the planet have become.
Since sometime in the 1970s, when world population was about 3.7 billion
the planet hasn’t been keep up with the demands we’ve placed upon it — a condition known as ecological overshoot. Yet, according to UN estimates, world population will reach 7 billion next month — nearly twice what it when we first crossed into unsustainability.
Of course, population is but one factor in ecological overshoot. In the near term, the emerging economies of the developing world will stress the planet far in excess of what population growth alone would suggest.
Global Footprint Network calculates that it would now take between 1.2 and 1.5 Earths to sustainably support our current ecological demands. Before mid-century, we’re likely to require the resources and regenerative capacity of two Earths.
Critics may claim that it’s impossible to calculate with any accuracy the ability of the Earth to support human needs, just as it’s impossible to arrive at an accurate count of world population. While true, such thinking misses the point.
Whether the day of environmental overshoot is today, last month, or next month, evidence that we are well past the threshold of sustainability is everywhere, from rising food and energy prices, to depleted aquifers, disappearing species and increasing atmospheric carbon.
One way or another, our unsustainable practices will eventually be be brought into balance. The only questions are, what will be the conditions of Earth and the human race when that happens.