Calling it Earth Overshoot Day, the group celebrates — or, rather, notes — the day by which people have used more natural resources, such as fish stocks, timber, and even carbon emissions, than the Earth can regenerate in a single year. It’s basically a balance sheet for global accounting.
“We can overuse nature quite easily,” Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, told ThinkProgress. “When you start to spend more than you earn, it does not become immediately apparent. But, eventually, you go bankrupt.”
“If a sea lion eats a fish, that fish is not available for me to eat,” Wackernagel said. But this philosophy works for carbon, as well. (And it’s usually people using up the natural resources, not sea lions).
The balance sheet helps show that our carbon footprint is linked to other natural resources, such as cropland and forest. Land can be used as forest, which absorbs carbon, or pavement, which does not. If we want to continue to emit carbon, we need to have areas that absorb it more quickly.
“It’s all a question of priorities, in some ways,” Wackernagel said.
And while our deficit spending of natural resources has improved on many fronts, the group found, carbon emissions are getting worse. These findings are consistent with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which announced in May that Earth surpassed the 400 parts per million (ppm) mark for the average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide for the first time since record-keeping began.
Wagernackel’s group hopes this idea of a balance sheet could help encourage countries to take their commitments to curbing carbon emissions more seriously, especially in the lead up to the United Nations climate change summit in Paris in December. Many countries have already submitted pledges to reduce carbon emissions, but there is still a long way to go, especially in order to avoid warming of 2°C, widely recognized as the threshold to prevent some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
Amazingly, even if humanity were to achieve the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recommended 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, we would still be in a yearly deficit, according to the group.
Many leaders of wealthy nations — including American politicians — have argued that taking steps to curb climate change is futile, because other developing nations, such as India and China, might not follow. Wackernagel says this method of accounting makes the self-interest of the problem more obvious.
“By putting carbon in the larger context of resources, the self-interest becomes more apparent,” Wackernagel said. “Really, your country is more like a farm. Are you sure you can maintain your metabolism if the resources are not available?”
The United States is an outsized user of natural resources, using about 1.9 times the amount of natural resources its section of the Earth regenerates. Japan, with its small area, uses 5.5 times the amount it regenerates.
Press link for more: Samantha Page | thinkprogress.org