Earth Overshoot Day: A reminder that our demand outstrips the planet’s ability to supply
This time, the estimated annual consumption of nature’s resources, which started on January 1, was stretched by an extra three weeks to August 22 compared with last year. Humanity’s ecological footprint contracted slightly, beating the trend of st.. Earth Overshoot Day, the day humanity’s consumption of natural resources exceeds what the earth can generate this year.
This time, the estimated annual consumption of nature’s resources, which started on January 1, was stretched by an extra three weeks to August 22 compared with last year. Humanity’s ecological footprint contracted slightly, beating the trend of steadily shortening periods in which people used up their yearly quota of nature’s resources.
However, the contraction was not on account of any radical change in consumption or production – it was purely because of the economic standstill brought about by Covid-19.
Earth Overshoot Day is not just another day on the calendar. It is a reminder that our collective demand on nature’s goods and services outstrips the planet’s ability to continue supplying them. In terms of money, it is the equivalent of a deficit and persisting with such behaviour would mean human beings would go ecologically broke at some point.
Since the 1950s, and more so in recent decades, humanity has prospered immensely but this has had an overwhelming impact on biodiversity. It presents significant risks to our economies and our way of life.
In March last year, the UK government set up the Review on the Economics of Biodiversity to independently explore humanity’s engagement with nature – “what we take from it; how we transform what we take from it and return to it; why we have disrupted Nature’s processes; and what we must urgently do differently to enhance our collective wealth and well-being, and that of our descendants.”
Experts say this has come about because of the failure to assign economic value to nature.
“The natural world which we inhabit and are a part of does not appear in contemporary economic theory or practice of economic growth and development. Nature is not part of indices like GDP and Human Development Index,” said Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus at the University of Cambridge, who chairs the review.
The review stresses on the critical need to treat nature as an asset – at par with produced capital and human capital – acknowledge our failure to “manage our assets efficiently” and understand the loss of nature as “an asset management problem.”
“Nature is an asset. We need an accounting framework to see whether we can tease out the rate of return on these assets, relative to rates of return on other investments like roads, buildings, ports. We are comfortable about estimating rates of return on assets like roads and buildings. Likewise, we need to do that for nature,” said Dasgupta.
Dasgupta says it is possible to assign values for items even if they are not recorded by the market.
“We can try and estimate their value to us, say as input in production – for example, pollinators could be valued in terms of additional pollination they make available, and the value of the pollination can be determined in terms of additional fruits or vegetables produced,” he said.
Climate change (cyclones, droughts, floods and heat waves), loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services (species going extinct, water sources drying up) and the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic make it clear that an economic development model that does not place a value on nature is unviable.
“Human beings have been destroying nature from time immemorial. The problem now arises because the scale of human activity has exploded. The review highlights the impact of this activity. What we discovered from a range of evidence is that from about 1950 – so this is only 70 years ago – till about now, there has been an explosion of our demand on nature services,” said Dasgupta.
Population size, global GDP per person, and the efficiency with which nature’s goods and services are converted to produced and human capital determine our demands on nature. If humanity is to reduce its ecological footprint, then development planning must deal with difficult questions such as “what and how we consume, how we manage our waste, and the potential role of family planning and reproductive health.”