Overshooting faster
August 24, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

This month we've gone too far, we humans on Earth. "[H]umanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We are now operating in overdraft."

A couple of days ago global civilization crossed from being in the black to up in the red, according to one view.

It's a moving date: "In 1992, Earth Overshoot Day... fell on October 21. In 2002, Overshoot Day was on October 3".

Is Earth Overshoot Day a useful concept, a kind of Doomsday Clock for our era?

Previously on MeFi.
posted by doctornemo (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Turning the fact that we use up too much of the Earth into kind of a budget deficit is.. I don't really have the word for it.

Should we now develop two parties to argue about the deficit without actually doing anything about it?

Maybe we can pay them a lot of money and give them many weeks of vacation.
posted by Malice at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds great, Malice. Where do I sign up?
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2012


Number of Planets Needed

OK, let's get on that.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:47 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]



Sounds great, Malice. Where do I sign up?
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:45 AM on August 24 [+] [!]


eponysterical!
posted by chavenet at 9:53 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a crazy way to think, because at this time there is no way to do anything about "surplus humans" (and I certainly wouldn't want doctornemo to do anything drastic!).

The only thing to do is to recognize that there are enough resources for everyone on earth; they are just distributed unevenly. And the only way to lower birth rates is to continue to improve infant mortality, which means investments in education and a continued effort to raise living standards and productivity.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 AM on August 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Eh. Fusion, affordable renewables, sea uranium or *something* that isn't fossil fuels or we're fucked. Cheap energy makes everything possible.

We haven't even got to the stage where water tables rise enough that previously potable water requires desalination yet. But don't worry, we can probably just build coal plants for that if oil gets too expensive.
posted by jaduncan at 9:59 AM on August 24, 2012


give them many weeks of vacation.

Once upon a time elected representatives had constituents and often wanted to consult them for their input. This required elected representatives to remain in the general vicinity of said constituents at least some of the time so they didn't have to travel all the way to Washington D.C. to petition their elected representative for redress of their grievances.

But don't let me get in the way of your flippant remark.
posted by Talez at 10:09 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a crazy way to think, because at this time there is no way to do anything about "surplus humans"...

Meat pies+hot sauce=solved problem.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:16 AM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I certainly wouldn't want doctornemo to do anything drastic!
Im playing my cards close to my best, KokuRyu. For now.
posted by doctornemo at 10:31 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a crazy way to think, because at this time there is no way to do anything about "surplus humans"

Soylent Green here! Come and get your own delicious Soylent Green!
posted by Melee Loaf at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2012


excess death
posted by Shit Parade at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2012


There's nothing like a simple "excess death" comment to make you feel really horrible about making a Soylent Green joke.
posted by Melee Loaf at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2012


Budget for the year? I understand what they're doing - breaking things in to bite-sized pieces for the people who have a seeming inability to take a long view on the consequences of action, or inaction, as the case may be - but we've blown the budget, period. "2 degree C target is largely out of the window" - (former IPCC chair) Professor Sir Robert Watson, August.23.2012.
Note that both the article that I linked to, and the BBC article that it links to neglect to mention that the targets are 2015 for the Kyoto accord, and 2020? 30? for the post-accord, although I may be wrong about the dates. Not *really* wrong, but five or ten years off.
Nutshell? All that predicted climate badness happens sooner than later. And this is a catastrophically bad thing.
posted by Zack_Replica at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Talez: give them many weeks of vacation.

Once upon a time elected representatives had constituents and often wanted to consult them for their input. This required elected representatives to remain in the general vicinity of said constituents at least some of the time so they didn't have to travel all the way to Washington D.C. to petition their elected representative for redress of their grievances.

But don't let me get in the way of your flippant remark.
Once upon a time. Not so much today, so not so much a flippant remark. Time is now often spent on paid speaking engagements, and other boondoggles.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:42 AM on August 24, 2012


Once upon a time elected representatives had constituents and often wanted to consult them for their input. This required elected representatives to remain in the general vicinity of said constituents at least some of the time so they didn't have to travel all the way to Washington D.C. to petition their elected representative for redress of their grievances.

But don't let me get in the way of your flippant remark.


Yeah... once upon a time, a lot of things were acceptable that are no longer. The invention of airplanes, trains and motorized vehicles really cut down travel time.

But hey, let's just keep defending those archaic practices while people who break their backs doing harder work for less money get fired for needing to take a personal day.

Anyway, this is a derail, it should end.
posted by Malice at 12:10 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


excess death

It's unfortunate that in his graphs, the author put in a lot of assumptions which he freely admits in the discussion are open to argument and have a +/- of decades on them. It makes some of the conclusions easier to dismiss than they ought to be.

I think he underestimates the extractable reserves of both petroleum and natural gas, in the form of tar sands and shale gas, respectively. These two sources alone have the capacity to maintain our current consumption for quite a while, although at enormous environmental cost. They don't seem to be factored into his model.

It's entirely possible, due solely to shale gas, that we might end up 'doubling down' on fossil fuels in the United States, at the very moment when we should be abandoning them wholesale if we want to soften the impact that the end of the Age of Oil will have. But making current/future tradeoffs has never been something humans have been good at, so I fully suspect that we'll exhaust not only all the shale oil, but all the tar sands as well, and eventually we'll end up looking hungrily back at those coal deposits that were not economically feasible to extract during the 20th century.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:03 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


i'm real comfortable talking about excess population because i am not one of the people who is going to be deemed 'excess'
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:31 PM on August 24, 2012


Cheap energy makes everything possible.
Cheap energy comes with its own problems.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 1:47 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


>there are enough resources for everyone on earth

Really? I doubt that. Sure we use a lot more in the north, but part of that is because we live in the north where it's cold and our buildings are generally stupidly designed to waste energy, which can't be changed overnight or for free, and cities and other systems depend on much fuel used in transport. I would love to see some evidence that there are enough resources for everyone on earth at present. Has anyone looked at that in some depth?

I guess it doesn't matter in the end, though, given a system based on grab what you can for yourself, which is the mainstream and fundamental human approach to things.
posted by Listener at 2:38 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Paul Ehrlich in 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s ["and 1980s" was added in a later edition]

The Club of Rome predicted that oil would run, mercury would run out (the price fell 98%)

Apocalypse Not.

Excluding global warming, and even there it's worth noting that the IPCC estimates incomes will rise 14 fold in the developed world and 24 times in the developing world, the world should be able to handle the other environmental problems.

With global warming one grad student who came up with a better nuclear system or got some form of fusion over the top could substantially alleviate the problem.

Here's a 40th anniversary retrospective on how spectacularly wrong the Club of Rome was.
posted by sien at 4:17 PM on August 24, 2012


This is a crazy way to think, because at this time there is no way to do anything about "surplus humans"
posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 AM on August 24


But it's not at all about "surplus humans," it's about patterns of consumption - unless we choose to believe that the way we live is somehow the only way we could ever possibly live.

I would love to see some evidence that there are enough resources for everyone on earth at present. Has anyone looked at that in some depth?
posted by Listener at 2:38 PM on August 24


I think the question needs to be more specific. Resources for everyone to do what? To live how? To amass fortunes built on infinitely expanding production of disposable crap? Nope. To indulge in every stupid little consumerist whim? Nuh-uh. To get tropical fruit in the north whenever you want? Hell no. To be online whenever you please? I don't know - maybe not. And really, the question might not even be about "everyone" - at least, there might not just be one identical question. It might be enough for a small minority to give up their radical lifestyles, and the rest of us to scale back (relatively) modestly.

But yeah - valuable question. Not sure how it would be approached. Just figuring out the questions that would leading up to figuring out how to ask the question would be fascinating.

I guess it doesn't matter in the end, though, given a system based on grab what you can for yourself, which is the mainstream and fundamental human approach to things.

It's not a fundamental human approach. It's learned behaviour. It's taught behaviour.
posted by Mike Smith at 4:35 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway, this is a derail, it should end.

You could try not starting it in the first place.
posted by Talez at 6:19 PM on August 24, 2012


Here's a 40th anniversary retrospective on how spectacularly wrong the Club of Rome was.

Bjorn Lomborg is a pretty questionable authority on this or any other issue. Here's a pretty fair and balanced account of how he has had to change his tune just on the global warming issue alone. Others (PDF) have been far more penetrating and less charitable about his overall approach, his science and his conclusions.

The orignal post is open to debate on many details, but dismissing most major environmental concerns as alarmist, as your links do, sien, is just whistling past the graveyard. These remain real, serious issues that need attention.
posted by dmayhood at 7:41 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Club of Rome predicted that oil would run, [out]

Lucky they were awesomely wrong and we still have $12 a barrel oil!
The CSIRO (the non-partisan, government funded Australian equivalent of, I guess, the NSF) released a paper in 2008 that reviewed the club of rome scenarios based on actual stats over the 30 years from 1970 to 2000.
It found the 'standard run' scenario, which assumed no major changes to business as usual fairly closely matched what actually happened in those decades.
Disturbingly, the standard run scenario gets pretty nasty in the not too distant future.

I don't particularly want to argue club of rome stats, but suggesting we pin our hopes on a wish that a grad student invent workable fusion is pretty lame. I'd really rather we live in a fact based world, rather than wish based, and prepare for the future with what we actually have, rather than what we wish to happen.
posted by bystander at 3:44 AM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


And the link to the CSIRO report, A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality.
posted by bystander at 3:47 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a crazy way to think, because at this time there is no way to do anything about "surplus humans" (and I certainly wouldn't want doctornemo to do anything drastic!).

The only thing to do is to recognize that there are enough resources for everyone on earth; they are just distributed unevenly.


By pretty much any analysis you can come up with, the human population of the planet is using more resources than can be renewed by natural processes. So even if you distributed resources equally among humans tomorrow, the human race as a whole would still have overshot the capacity of the natural world to support it indefinitely. If something can't go on forever, it won't.

The natural world - Reality, if you prefer - can certainly do something about "surplus humans", just like it can, and does, do something about the surplus population of any species that consumes more than can be produced. I don't think we humans would particularly enjoy what would be done (I certainly wouldn't), which is why it may be a good idea to think about ways to reduce the pressures on the resources that keep us alive. Lots of things might be "crazy ways to think", but if we as a species keep doing the things we are doing, they're most likely going to happen, whether or not we'd prefer them not to, regardless of all of our logical and ethical arguments.

I've heard a lot about the naturalistic fallacy - deriving "ought" from "is" - but I've heard much less about the reverse - deriving "is" from "ought". I like James Howard Kunstler's name for it - the Jiminy Cricket Syndrome ("if I wish upon a star, all my dreams will come true"). To overuse some more an analogy I've used more than once, just because I would really, really like it if gasoline materialized in my gas tank without the effort of going to the gas station - even though it could allow me to do all sorts of wonderful, amazing things that anybody could agree are ethically and morally desirable - doesn't mean that it will. A dishearteningly high percentage of the time that I bring this up, however, the reaction is quite negative (example: Me: "Green Revolution can't go on forever because of environmental impacts". Response: "Child-starver!" Me: "But there are real, physical limits, no matter what we might want". Response: "Child-starver!")

Population will decline, one way or another. I'd really, really, really prefer it to be in the way that you described - education, empowerment, all the good and positive things that this world needs - but it's not going to be enough to slice the pie more evenly when the pie is too big for the table. I don't have any easy solutions - I completely understand why so many people are reluctant to deal with population as an issue - but if humans don't deal with it somehow, then Reality will. And it won't be pretty.
posted by jhandey at 5:18 AM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


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