A credit we can't afford

This year it took seven months for humankind to exhaust the natural resources that planet Earth provides in one calendar year. 29th July symbolically marked the date when humanity begins to use the resources of the future and to live on credit.

It is called ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ and it is an important opportunity to reflect on this obstinate and dangerous over-consumption, as we consider the future regenerative capacity of the resources themselves.

Earth Overshoot Day was announced by the Global Footprint Network (GFN), an international organisation that monitors the ‘ecological footprint’ of humans, and reports on the global over-exploitation of the raw materials that the ecosystems of Earth ‘donate’ to us human beings.

According to the GFN, the natural resources on offer in Italy were depleted much earlier in the year, so Italy’s ‘Overshoot Day’ was actually 15th May of this year. This ecological deficit is due to the fact that excessive consumption of energy, water, forests and land means that Italians must import natural resources through trade and/or by emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To satisfy the national ecological footprint, Italy would need to be 4.7 times its size, or alternatively, three quarters of the population of our Bel Paese would need to leave.

Amazingly Australia, which is the eighth richest nation in the world in terms of natural resources, with an almost irrelevant population and a surface more than twice the size of the whole of Europe, does not do better. In fact, it recorded its own Overshoot Day last March 31st. This is a harsh wakeup call to the unsustainability of the Australian lifestyle. At the current pace, if all of humanity lived and consumed raw materials like the Australians, we would need 5.2 planets to maintain this unfortunate lifestyle.

Sadly, this is not one of those open-ended stories in which the outcome is left to our imagination. There is only one possibility for the epilogue of this narrative.  

'Humanity will eventually have to operate in compliance with the ecological resources of the Earth,' as the GFN maintains, ‘regardless of whether the balance is restored by environmental disasters or by changes in policy’.  

In short, sitting and hoping for a happy ending does not seem to be an option, because there is a moral obligation for us to act, to cease being silent.  

As William S. Burroughs said, ‘There are never innocent spectators.’