Monday, October 09, 2006

A Very, Very, Rude Awakening

I had a really rude awakening today. Well, actually I had two. One was the one you’re probably thinking of –the nuclear weapons test in North Korea. The other had absolutely nothing to do with that, and is even more ominous.

Today is World Overshoot Day. It’s the day every year when we’ve used up the regenerative capacity of the earth for that year. In other words, the point at which we begin liquidating the environment in order to support ourselves. Look here for more information: first one was in December of 1987. As of now, we are using up 30% of the Earth’s regenerative capacity just to maintain our lifestyles every year.

That sounds awful, and it is. But it gets even worse. That’s the insidious nature of exponential growth. You see, our environmental demands are growing every year. I was so shaken by this that I pulled out some environmental science books I have and made some quick calculations. These books are a little bit dated, but the numbers in there are still accurate as far as I know. I used two facts to analyze this, and the results were absolutely terrifying. These were:
The average annual growth in human demand on the environment is 5.5%
Ecosystems tend to collapse when demand on their capacity reaches no more than 50%. Sometimes they collapse at lower levels, but always by this point.

I did not trust the result I got in my calculator, so I plugged the numbers into Excel. The result? The year we will pass 50% of capacity if demands keep growing at the current rate is 2016. The year two thousand sixteen. That is only TEN YEARS FROM NOW. And remember, ecosystems tend to collapse at less than half capacity.

We’re not talking about an isolated ecosystem here –we’re talking about the ENTIRE PLANET. So, what does this mean? I think it means that we are in deep, deep trouble.


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