August 19 was Earth Overshoot Day 2014, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s ‘budget’ for the year.
Starting from today and for the rest of this year, we will be drawing down on ecological resources that the Earth cannot replenish – in essence we will be operating in the ecological red. Current estimates suggest that we need approximately 1.5 Earths to sustain our current requirement for ecological resources and this is well on track to be 3 Earths by 2050.
As each country on Earth has different ecological resources, different populations and different consumption patterns you can also consider the ecological resource balance at a country level. The graphic to the left illustrates some select countries with a negative balance, and as you can see the UK in particular has some work to do to start living within its ecological means.
Its not all bad news, 14% of the world still operates in the black and Canada, Australia, Brazil and Finland are all notable high income countries with an ecological capacity that is able to support their populations. However, it is immediately clear that these counties all have something in common, they have vast tracts of wilderness relative to their population sizes. In essence, this means that the success of these countries is more by accident rather than by them adopting some kind of ecologically sensitive approach to their own resource consumption. Bearing in mind that 86% of the world operates in the red and the 14% that do not are perhaps an ecological accident, does this mean that comparing countries in this way is even relevant?
As a planet, we all need to take action and the danger of comparing countries with one another is that it will create disagreements between what is the most appropriate course of action to take. As we have seen with the last two UN Climate Negotiations, we risk taking no action at all because our leaders cannot agree on what action is fair – this is a rather absurd situation when the one thing our leaders are all in agreement about is that they need to take action! The message here then, is dont wait for someone to tell you what to – as we pass into the Overshoot this year think about what small steps you can take to reduce our own personal consumption, wherever and whoever you are.