Earth Overshoot Day receives scant media coverage

Amidst the deluge of news flooding our media, one critical item received scant coverage in the media: this year, Earth Overshoot Day inched forward to August 2.

Aug 18, 2017

By Anil Netto
Amidst the deluge of news flooding our media, one critical item received scant coverage in the media: this year, Earth Overshoot Day inched forward to August 2.

What this means is that by Aug 2 this year, humanity had used more from Nature than the planet could have renewed or provided in the entire year of 2017.

Over the years, this date has been creeping forward earlier and earlier in the year. In the year 2000, it was Nov 1. By 2010, it had moved to Aug 21, which means we were using up our quota of resources for the year at a much quicker rate.

Not surprisingly, the developed nations have overshot days for 2017 much earlier than the global average of Aug 2: Luxemberg’s is on Feb 17, Qatar on Feb 19, Australia on Mar 12, Canada on Mar 13, and the United States on Mar 14.

Among South East Asian nations, Singapore comes in on Apr 2, Malaysia on May 28 and Thailand commendably on Aug 31.

The least ecologically damaging nation is Honduras whose overshoot day is Dec 31.

The media have hardly given much coverage to these overshoot days. Maybe that’s because there is some criticism about the way the overshoot days are calculated and the underlying assumptions used.

But then, there is also criticism of how GDP growth (economic growth) figures are calculated. For example, when calculating economic growth, the environmental cost of achieving such growth is largely ignored. The loss of forests, the depletion of fish stocks, the depletion of natural resources, greenhouse air emissions, the deteriorating air quality and global warming are not factored in. Economic growth rates also ignore the issue of whether the material income that is generated is fairly distributed among the people or concentrated in the hands of a small minority.

Such serious shortcomings in the calculation of economic growth rates have not stopped the media from constantly harping on economic growth as if it was a genuine measure of our collective wellbeing. Far from it.

That said, if we think we can take the moral high ground because our personal lifestyles are ‘simpler’ than the national average, we could be in for a rude shock. Hop over to the footprintcalculator.org website to calculate your own personal overshoot day. Don’t be surprised if your overshoot day is closer to that of the developed nations and much earlier than the Malaysian day of May 28.

We may think we live simple lifestyles, but the things we take for granted can really weigh down on our personal carbon footprint especially when it comes to our food and mobility choices. Do we eat meat regularly and how much? Does the food we eat come from within 200 miles of our homes? What distance do we drive in a week? How often do we use public transport?

All these things add up. Quite likely, we will find that if everyone in the world was to live the same kind of lifestyle as we did on a personal level, we would need four or five Earths to sustain our lifestyles.

The problem is, we only have one Earth. Perhaps that is one reason why Jesus chose to walk most of the time everywhere he went. The only recorded time in his adult life when he didn’t walk was when he wanted to make a statement by riding a donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus ate fish and bread produced locally and drank wine produced in the region. So his overall carbon footprint would have been close to zero.

Now, we might think living that sort of lifestyle with close to zero carbon footprint is not practical in this day and age. But even so, the choices we make in our present day context — housing, transport, travel, mobility, food choices — will affect our personal carbon footprint.

At the national level, it is time we stopped being obsessed with economic growth figures, which ignore the damage inflicted on the ecology.

We should keep a sharp eye out for rapacious corporations that clearcut our forests, deplete our natural resources, and pollute the sea, the rivers and the air. The profits they reap enrich their shareholders and top management but could harm the community around them.

It is time we evaluate each project on its merits while also considering the level of harm it inflicts on Nature. And that includes large church building projects.

In Laudato Si, the Bishop of Rome urges us to care for our common home while pointing to St Francis of Assisi as “the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically.” It is time we take the message in Laudato Si seriously. We don’t have much time to lose.

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