SUZUKI – We only have one Earth, and we’re overshooting its capacity


AUGUST 2 was Earth Overshoot Day. Unlike Earth Day or Canada Day, it’s not a time to celebrate. As the Earth Overshoot Day website explains, it marks the time when “we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year.”

That is the definition of unsustainable and means we’re using up the biological capital that should be our children’s legacy. We would require 1.7 Earths to meet our current annual demands sustainably.

It doesn’t have to be this way. “Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future,” says Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that uses UN statistics and other sources to calculate when overshoot day falls every year. This year marks the earliest overshoot date yet.

(Wackernagel was a student of University of British Columbia ecologist William Rees. They popularized the footprint concept in their 1996 book, Our Ecological Footprint. Andrew Simms of the U.K.’s New Economics Foundation conceived Earth Overshoot Day, partnering with the Global Footprint Network in 2006 on the first campaign, and with conservation organization WWF starting in 2007.)

According to the website, overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural sinks like forests can sequester are among the ways we overshoot Earth’s capacity. The consequences are serious.

“Impacts of ecological overspending are apparent already in soil erosion, desertification, reduced cropland productivity, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid species extinction, fisheries collapse and increased carbon concentration in the atmosphere,” it notes.

“Natural capital constraints also pose a threat to economic performance and economic stability.”

Climate change is the most serious result. The Global Footprint Network says our carbon footprint makes up 60 per cent of our total ecological footprint, and it’s increasing rapidly. Basing its calculations on “the land area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production,” the network says our carbon footprint has more than doubled since 1970.

The network also offers a mobile-friendly personal footprint calculator. Be warned: If you live in North America, your footprint will likely be much higher than 1.7 Earths, no matter how ecologically aware you consider yourself. We use far more energy and other resources than people in many parts of the world.

The site includes a range of solutions in four areas: food, cities, population and energy. In North America, reducing the carbon footprint by using less energy — especially fossil fuels — is major, but so is changing food habits. Food demand makes up 26 per cent of the global footprint.

Because raising animals for food requires far more resources and creates more emissions than growing plants, reducing the amount of meat and animal products we eat decreases our footprint. According to Oregon State University researchers, if Americans ate beans instead of beef, the U.S. could meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goals, even if the country did little else and if people continued to eat other animal products.

Food waste is another major problem. One-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted or lost — as much as 40 per cent in the U.S.

Population is an obvious concern. More people require more space and resources. Strategies to stabilize population growth also have social benefits. “Educating girls and providing access to safe, affordable, and effective family planning” and “empowering women” are essential to reducing population growth and result in better economic development and health outcomes.

Because humans are increasingly urban dwellers — with 70 to 80 per cent expected to live in cities by 2050 — things like “energy-efficient buildings, integrated zoning, compact cities, and effective options for people-powered and public transportation” are crucial to reducing our footprint.

Some have criticized the Earth overshoot concept, arguing it’s not accurate or that it underestimates resource overuse. Wackernagel admits the calculations are only as good as the available data, but argues that it remains a useful way to put our unsustainable ways in perspective.

Demanding constant economic growth on a finite planet with limited ability to renew resources is a recipe for overshoot. We can and must do more to reduce our growing impact on the only home we have.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. David Suzuki’s latest book is Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do (Greystone Books), co-written with Ian Hanington. Learn more at

About Mel Rothenburger (6018 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on SUZUKI – We only have one Earth, and we’re overshooting its capacity

  1. R A George // August 9, 2017 at 5:57 PM // Reply

    There is nothing that can be done. Old mother nature is eventually going to solve the problem of out of control overpopulation. It won,t be nice.

  2. I’m not sure where to begin.Jennifer! you are absolutely right.David you too are absolutely right.But both of you have missed the mark.
    The problem is 8 billion people and what it takes to sustain them.The earth could, for a short time support double the population but overshoot becomes more and more obviouse.It;s strange but Naomi Klien says there is no problem with 8 billion people..She said this right here in our perochial little city last fall.The very next night Dr Suzuki ,on the same stage said the opposite.Poverty and education would empower the women of the third world.Thats great !!! How are you going to educate 3 or 4 billion people before they become 8 or 9 billion people ?
    If we would stop relying on some no existant god to save us and started compulsory population control, within 100 years the population of earth might be back to 2 billion,which might be sustainable .This might buy us 70 years.Then we would be right back where we are.70 years ago the population of earth was about two and a half billion.This brings us back to the question of how do you educate that many people in a short enough time to make a difference?
    It’s fine to say stop eating meat but it’s kind of like telling cows to stop eating hay.It is a historical imperative.We cannot change that.What quality of life do we end up with if we cotinue with short ineffective solutions.I don;t have the answer but I believe that niether of you do either.I do believe that the Chinese were on the right track when they brought in they’re one child policy but found out they could not or would not enforce it.Would a Trumpian world war three do the trick?
    We are victims of our own success.Dr Suzuki said it himself when he said we are out breeding the rabbits,It would appear that we are out breeding everything and killing off everything that gets in our way of making a profit.
    We must,urgently curtail the corporate structure (Greed) and the political structure (power) and the need to breed before we can even start down the road to sustainability.

  3. Am I reading this correctly? Educating girls and providing access to safe, affordable family planning is the answer to human overpopulation of the earth? And also “empowering women”? That really gets my dander up. What about the parts of the world where custom and religion make it fine for men to have multiple wives and have into the dozens of children? For those women to try to be empowered may result for them to be severely beaten or worse, even in these times. All of the cultures that have huge families need more than for the women to get educated, it also means educating the men. And it also means for churches who forbid birth control in this society to stop. If governments would provide first of all education and birth control in Third World countries perhaps they would save more lives than by trying to provide aid for too many humans than can be helped. How can you tell someone who has a smart phone in their hand and access to the internet that totally tells the story of overpopulation and what we are doing to the planet, and has six or more kids trailing behind them, that they should have less children? It will take more than just educating girls.

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