Do you have it planned?
By Himanshu Verma, Contributor If our expenditure is more than our earnings, we are overspending and we are well aware of the consequences of doing that. Similarly, nature has its annual budget too. Our planet can produce or regenerate a limited amount of natural resources in a specific period of time. Dave McLaughlin, the senior vice-president of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Sustainable Food programme, aptly said in his article on LiveScience.com: “Planet Earth is in the red. For the rest of the year people will be writing cheques our planet can’t cash.” When our demands consume more than what the planet can renew, we are overspending. The consequences of going over the limit in a financial budget are well-known, but do we realize the consequences of crossing the limit of our ecological budget, which could jeopardize man’s existence on this planet? Our planet, according to McLaughlin, is “like a gecko that’s lost its tail. Our planet can heal itself. It can regrow plants, rebuild fish stocks, re-absorb carbon from the air, and return clean water to lakes, rivers and aquifers. But these processes take time.” When humankind’s use of natural resources exceeds the planet’s ability to produce and replenish them, overshoot occurs. What is Earth’s overshoot? According to OverShootDay.org, “Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for goods and services that our lands and seas can provide—fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide consumption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest.” Global Footprint Network (GFN) created Overshoot Day to send a timely warning of the irreversible damage man’s consumption of natural resources is causing. GFN also coordinates research and develops methods to help allow the human economy to operate within the Earth’s resources. GFN’s calculations to determine the date of Earth’s Overshoot Day is based on a simple formula: the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of resources an area can produce) divided by humanity’s ecological footprint (our demand for food, carbon emissions, livestock, plants, timber, and available space) multiplied by 365. If WWF’s Living Planet Report is to be believed, we must start worrying, because according to McLaughlin: “We eventually crossed the invisible boundary. Starting around 1970, we began to take more from the planet each year than it could restore. Since then, the gap between our rate of consumption and planet’s rate of regeneration has widened from crevice to chasm.” The first overshoot day was calculated as December 23, 1970. In 2000, it fell on October 4; then on August 17, 2014. This year—further widening the gap—it was on August 13. The plausible reason could be that our population explosion, and the need for more food, infrastructure, and development, increased our demands, which is now pressing hard on our ecological resources. Greenhouse gas emissions and food production are considered to be largely responsible for the overshoot by causing climate change and driving extreme weather, which in turn contributes to food insecurity ending in high food prices that could ultimately lead to global unrest. McLaughlin suggested two basic strategies to deal with the situation: mitigation and adaptation. To ensure food security, WWF has taken initiative by way of mitigation. Starting with the “world’s largest food producers, down to traders, consumer brands, and retailers,” WWF is coordinating the production of food within the set ecological parameters, through efficient production using fewer and fewer natural resources, and by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum. This could be a welcome step towards reducing the environmental impact of food, and it could help roll back Earth’s Overshoot Day. Adaptation, on the other hand, is a more challenging task that involves embarking on new solutions. WWF has decided to co-host Food Chain Reaction—a mock stimulation or role-playing exercise—this November in partnership with organizations such as the Center for American Progress, CNA, Cargill Inc., and Mars Inc. It will bring dozens of people from around the world with professions such as policy makers, scientists, and food company executives to Washington D.C., where they will deal with a “hypothetical food shortage and its side effects.” McLaughlin informs that the given situation will be set as per the predicted and calculated conditions in 2020 in terms of population, urbanization, weather conditions etc. The players will learn to deal with the situation by collaborating, negotiating, making decisions, confronting trade-offs, and exploring new possibilities. The situation given may be hypothetical, but the players dealing with the situation have been picked very carefully, with the organizers inviting those who are likely to have to deal with a real food shortage situation in the near future. “We might not know what the next food shortages will look like, but scientific and historical evidence tell us that they will come—and that they will be increasingly severe and prolonged,” said McLaughlin. It is clear from the previous record that Earth’s Overshoot Day is advancing every year. However, both the public and the private sector are ushering the world into an “era of responsibility” in order to roll the overshoot day back, and prepare ourselves for the inevitable food crises when they strike our planet. The ecological footprint of each city, state, and nation can be compared to its biocapacity. If the value is higher, that particular region is running an ecological deficit; thus, the region is likely to fulfill its demands by liquidating its future ecological assets and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to a report published in The Guardian, China needs 2.7 times more biocapacity to support its present population. So is the case with other countries: France needs 1.4; USA, 1.9; India, 2; the U.K., 3; Egypt, 3.2; Switzerland, 3.5; Italy, 3.8; and Japan, 5.5. The total world average is 1.6. This means that it would take 1.6 Earths to meet our demands. The Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA), an official partner of GFN, reported in August that “if everyone on Earth had the same life style as an average Australian, we would need 4.8 planets.” The task of calculating a city or state’s footprint may be the responsibility of the respective governments, but we too can plan our ecological budget at individual level. To begin with, calculate your personal ecological footprint using GFN’s online footprint calculator, which will depend on how much land area it takes to support your lifestyle, what kind of transport you use, and other variables of your daily life. Unfortunately, there is no calculator that applies to BC, so select Calgary or US on the displayed map for approximate results. This will help you know your areas of resource consumption, and reduce your ecological deficit. Awareness is an important step towards action. Some first steps are using more public transport, reducing your plastic and other non-biodegradable waste, saving water, recycling as much as possible, and, most importantly, planting trees. Do your part to prolong man’s stay on Earth, because Earth is not just a planet; it is also our home.