It’s August 2, 2023. It’s Earth Overshoot Day…for the planet as a whole.
For individual nations, the dates vary, depending on the standard of living for each one.
The higher that standard, the more resource use, and thus the earlier the Overshoot Day for whichever nation you focus on.
We’ve done it again: we humans have reproduced way too much, put far more pressure on our planet’s ecosystems and resources than it can bear, and are thus living at a deficit.
A visit to www.worldometers.info can confirm our species’ population count:
On a finite planet with a carrying capacity for under 2 billion humans, we have well over 8 billion of us, with no signs of slowing down.
The planet cannot and will not enable us to continue doing this.
It doesn’t have enough of what all of us need to survive: food, water, space, clean air – to name just a few essential items.
Think of it as the Earth’s bank account.
The debt is coming due.
With a bank account, you can’t take out any more once you’ve depleted the funds.
We’re living on credit.
Bankruptcy is imminent.
You can see it in the news of ecosystems collapse.
Just look at the article that The New York Times published this week about the dying lands in Iraq, with saline-riddled, stagnant water, and hardly any of that.
Middle East | A Climate Warning from the Cradle of Civilization
Dust blows in and covers nearly or completely abandoned human settlements while livestock starve to death and ISIS militants have an ever-easier time moving around because they don’t have to worry about crossing rivers now that those rivers have dried up.
Remember the Fertile Crescent that we studied in junior high school, the “cradle of civilization”?
It’s used up.
People are crowding into cities because they can’t make a living by farming, which was what they enjoyed doing. They had far more personal space and autonomy, and the self-esteem that comes from the ability to earn their own living through their own efforts.
Now they can’t do that.
Instead, they will live in tight spaces, close together, and struggle to find work that they hate and are unfamiliar with. Bosses will be impatient with them. Resources will be strained in cities, too.
Governments will not be able to fix what’s broken: overpopulation, with humans compressed together far too closely, with nowhere else to go, not enough to do, and not enough opportunity for health care, education, and work.
Situations like that breed violence.
Nonviolent movements for civil societies will be hard-pressed to solve such problems, too.
You can’t induce a government that is inclined toward authoritarianism to respect individual liberty when it can’t even offer its people enough resources to live comfortable happy lives, whether that government tends toward a religious brand of authoritarianism or a collectivist one.
And the democracies of the world are not immune to these risks.
We have MAGA morons in the U.S. House and Senate right now (well, the MAGA majority is in the House, but the Senate has them too) who are working hard at avoiding their duties to take care of the nation while attacking the freedoms that we had, still have, and need for our American democracy to continue.
You know the litany of them by now if you follow the news: abortion access, birth control, same-sex marriage, environmental protections, voting rights, restraints on corporate greed…and so on.
Not only that, but we have had some heat waves this summer, and next summer promises to be even hotter.
What will that do to us?
- Deaths due to heat exhaustion and heat stroke due to an unmet need for air conditioning and building construction that makes hot boxes (that literally cook people);
- Sea level rise that will soon inundate places that are currently at sea level, such as Florida, as the ice shelves break off into glaciers and melt;
- Far more human migrations than we are currently seeing, as people flee to cooler areas, which will alter the political maps of our country.
Connecticut is a nice, liberal, politically blue state…and I wonder for how long, once climate change, global warming, and ecosystems collapse catches up with us all.
Our food choices will have to change. Love almonds? They require far too much water. Anything that bees need to pollinate? People love their grassy expanses of green lawns too much to think about not using ANY insecticides, so don’t hold on too tightly to the idea of having fresh fruits and vegetables and as much of them as we need for much longer.
Dire consequences of a warming planet have already happened.
I just read The Heat Will Kill You First by Rolling Stone magazine’s climate reporter, Jeff Goodell, and it was excellent.
One story that really stuck with me – and he will be pleased that it did – is about the 2003 heat wave that hit Paris, France.
Those beautiful apartments with the curved, blue metal roofs on the 6th floors are ovens that cooked humans to death…and melted the ones that weren’t found and removed immediately. The melt oozed down into the units below, causing a visceral horror that that genre of movies could never compete with for those who smelled it.
Why was it so bad? Those roofs are made of zinc.
As I read about that, I thought of something that could be done: rip those zinc roofs off of those buildings, and build greenhouses on all of those top floors. And…make them pretty, with the tops shaped like those roofs. Sure, they would be clear glass, but they would grow food, and they would contain lots of green plants that capture carbon dioxide as they cool the city air.
It’s France, where things are expected to be beautiful, so make the change attractive – keep that shape that Haussmann’s Paris is prized and famous for.
But they have to stay, cry historic preservationists. They are UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
This really is carrying historic preservation too far – and this is coming from someone who thinks the ideal vacation is one spent in museums, viewing art, history, and culture while listening to a knowledgeable guide lecture about it.
I love it so much that I wrote a novel about a trip up the Rhone River, and included an issue that we should be aware of in the plot: biopreparat and bioterrorism. It’s cheap – cheaper than chemical or nuclear terrorism. That novel is called Intrigue On a Longship Cruise.
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I’m also someone who has worked as a historic interpreter, at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut (and at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, across the yard from it).
And I wrote about it, in The Visitor Experience at the Mark Twain House.
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So…we humans have a choice to make that far too few of us are willing to make: we must make changes in our food, our use of chemicals on our ecosystems, and most of all, we must stop reproducing as much as most of us want to, or we shall soon have great misery – up close and personal.
That misery will include aggressive, violent crowds, insufficient water, little personal space, not enough work, food, or adequate education, and we will find our homes flooded away, awash in plastic pollution and chemical waste, erased by tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and even earthquakes from land recission caused by sucking the ground dry of all water.
“How does this happen?!” people might ask.
“It’s not fair!”
Fair? What does that have to do with it?
Bill Maher did a clever thing on his show this spring about human attitudes toward facing our situation and actually doing something about it.
The episode, the 9th one of Season 21 for Real Time with Bill Maher, and 629th of all, aired on March 24, 2023. The guests at the discussion table were Scott Galloway and Annie Lowrey. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt27248627/
Here are their Wikipedia pages:
Galloway is a professor, author, speaker, businessperson, and entrepreneur with an M.B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley. He is 58 years old.
Lowrey is a Harvard-educated journalist. She is 39 years old, and has 2 children.
Bill Maher raised the topic of human overpopulation and the pressure that is it putting on the finite resources and space of the Earth.
Then he sat back and let them have at it with this topic.
I knew what was going to happen:
2 educated people, who sound very reasonable and intelligent about everything else, suddenly didn’t.
Instead, Lowrey said that she was sure that the planet’s resources could be arranged in such a way that everyone’s needs – even more than 8 or 9 or 10 billion – could be accommodated.
(Never mind that human greed and laziness will impede such efforts, and that this therefore won’t happen.)
Next, Galloway spoke…and gave the game away: “I want grandkids!”
And there it is: people don’t care that we are ending life as we know by recklessly consuming resources at a deficit. They want what they want – to pass on their own phenotypes to more humans and see them repeated – consequences be damned.
And that, humans, is how we have gotten into overshoot so early, year after year after year.