Earth Overshoot & Natural Debt

Earth Overshoot Day 2010
Our Natural Accounts Run Red

Today is the official day of Earth Overshoot: the first day of the year our natural capital spending is in the red. This type of natural debt is far more destructive than its monetary counterpart (natural debt meaning debt owed of natural capital, not a debt that is natural – there is no such thing). Instead of being able to pay back this loan, we’re actually making it harder to pay our bills next year and the year after.

Overshoot is a term used often by biologists to describe a population that consumes more than the system can support. This could be a pack of grey wolves in the Northern Territories that is eating more deer than can possible be born and grow within the year. What does that mean? With less deer this year to breed, there will be less deer next year to eat. The deer the wolves eat next year will deplete their reserve even further. Eventually no deer will be around to eat and the wolves will starve.

We’re doing the same thing today with the Earth. As the Global Footprint Network puts it,

“For most of human history, humanity has been able to live off of nature’s interest – consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year.

But approximately three decades ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for ecological services began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them. This gap between demand and supply – known as ecological overshoot – has grown steadily each year. It now takes one year and six months to regenerate the resources that humanity requires in one year.

The bummer here is that we can’t migrate to a new territory: there’s only one Earth. There will only ever be one Earth. One Planet. That’s how much we’ve been given, best we figure out how to use it well. We need to create a sustainable scale to our society and economy.

Gas Tank
Maxed Out: Earth Doesn't Have Give Out Credit

Overshoot is directly related to carrying capacity – and biologists know that when a population consumes more than the system can renew, this overshoot often leads to a mass die-off.  We’re already watching the most massive extinction since the dinosaurs, our biological diversity is dwindling at unheard-of rates. Perhaps this should be seen as a warning to our own existence? After all, we are part of nature.

Celebrate Earth Overshoot Day by donating your car and buying a bike, calling your congressman, writing the president, trading your oil company job for a green job, building resiliency in your local community and supporting your local economy. Have a great anti-Holiday!

See my cross-post on Post Growth and out my guest post on Green Growth Cascadia about Earth Overshoot Day. Image Credits: Global Footprint Network.

5 thoughts on “Earth Overshoot & Natural Debt”

  1. Obviously something is wrong with our relationship with the earth and with each other and 99.9% of all environmental discourse is about that. More important is the steady state solution. Last year I produced the world’s first handbook on the steady state which not only explains in broad terms what a steady state way of life would be like but suggests ideas for the transition. It also calls for your suggestions so that the next edition will be more informative.
    The book is entitled ‘Steady State Alternative to Endless Economic Growth’. It can be purchased from either the publisher – Envirobook – or me.

  2. Mindless/Endless CON-ventional Economic growth based on ‘the dismal science” and which does not fully respect Ecological biodiversity-decline, OR cannot’measure, monitor or even ‘see” the damage being done NEEDS TO BE replaced by a Carbon-trading System which enshrines a defined Medium-term” Timespan for monitoring, a LongTerm timespan for ALL Planning, & the elimination/PHASEOUT of the political ‘shortTerm'(3-4 year periods) as being the basis for all–economics; it never is or was Éco-LOGICAL”!
    Joe A Friend Independent Agroecologist;coined ‘The Sustainable Timespan’
    Concept in 1992, U.S.Journal of Soil & Water Conservation(March-April).

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