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Earth Overshoot Day: this year it's on 8 August and we are in the Age of Stupid

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 7:50 IST

This year, Earth Overshoot Day falls on 8 August. This is a matter of shame.

If a fish population of 10 million produces 2 million new fish each year, and if we consume 2 million or less fish each year, then we can be sure to survive forever.

If we consume more than 2 million, then we end up eating up into the base 10 million fish, so that next year there are only, say, 9 million left, which then produce 1.8 million fish.

This goes on until no fish are left.

So, the smart way is to consume, by 31 December, 2 million or less fish. But what if we find out in August that we ate up all this fish?

Overshoot Day is basically this - except it's not just for fish but for all of nature's bounties put together.

Each year, there's a finite amount of ecological goods and services that we can consume. If we don't overshoot i.e. if the Overshoot Day falls on 31 December, then we are a truly sustainable society.

How have we fared? So far...

Look how far we are from it. Last year, the Overshoot Day was 13 August, and within a year we have managed to pull it forward by five days. Each year, we eat into our base stock of nature, so that each year there's lesser on offer, and the cycle goes on.

Also read: Earth Overshoot Day: a reminder that our world is dying and we are killing it

So if one "earth" is the amount that we should use each year, guess how much we actually use? 1.6 earths,according to the Global Footprints Network, which also calculates the Overshoot Day each year.

In our fish analogy this means instead of consuming 2 million we consume over 3 million.

Who is responsible? Population, you said?

According to the Network, Australia, the United States and Switzerland each use about five Earth's. Each, mind you.

India, in comparison, uses up 0.7 times of Earth's resources - no small feat, but - way lesser than the other nations with lower populations.

Just last month, the United Nations released a report, the "Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity".

It said that North Americans and Europeans had double the ecological footprint as Asia and Africa.

Money makes it worse

Another testimony to how our maddening material use is a result of our financial wealth is that the average material per person fell soon after the 2008 recession. And it is increasing now with economic recovery.

At their peak, North Americans used an average 33 tons of materials each, compared to about 10 to 11 tonnes elsewhere (excluding Europe).

These numbers also include usage of metals and fossils and not just renewable resources. Being non-renewable, their over-consumption only makes the story worse.

The point where "population" starts becoming a relevant answer is when this "population" begins living like Europeans and North Americans.

"The world economy has experienced a great acceleration in material use since 2000, strongly related to the industrial and urban transformation in China," the UN report says.

In India, according to one calculation, the ecological footprint per person of the top 1% income earners in the country is 17 times that of the poorest 40%.

A hundred luxury cars are sold in India each day, a number that is expected to triple in less than a decade.

Also read:Global Harming: India's rich have a bigger ecological footprint than the world average

No metaphor about frogs in the well can do justice to the monumental folly we are committing as a society.

As the eponymous documentary film suggests, we are in the "Age of Stupid".

Also read: Do you care about the environment? Here are 11 must-read stories from 2015

First published: 7 August 2016, 3:16 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.