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Analysts Warn We’re Running Out of Resources Needed to Sustain Life on Our Planet

Analysts Warn We’re Running Out of Resources Needed to Sustain Life on Our Planet

Have you ever heard of Earth Overshoot Day? No? Neither had I. It’s the day each year that we use up the resources that can be renewed within that year. This year, it was on August 1st, so for the rest of the year, we’re living on borrowed resources.

It reminds me of the economy and quantitative easing. There’s only so far we can push it until there’s nothing left from which to borrow. While the analysts say this is all related to climate change, a theory that many find dubious, one thing is absolutely certain – they’re right about the looming shortage of resources. And a lot of it is because Westerners are so incredibly wasteful as a society.

Water

Look at water, for example. Droughts have stricken us here in parts of the United States for years, and blogger Michael Snyder has suggested it could quickly lead to a return to Dustbowl conditions similar to those of the 1930s. South Africa has barely managed to push back Day Zero, the day in which Cape Town runs completely out of water, using stringent rationing methods.

Even parts of the US that aren’t in drought conditions are seeing frequent water crises, with algae blooms, toxic run-off, chemical spills, and tainted municipal water. Doesn’t it seem to you that these things are happening a lot more often?

The global water shortage is coming fast.

 At this point, approximately 40 percent of the entire population of the planet has little or no access to clean water, and it is being projected that by 2025 two-thirds of humanity will live in “water-stressed” areas.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today we’ve consumed more resources than the planet can renew in a year

Today we’ve consumed more resources than the planet can renew in a year

Our economies are operating a giant planetary Ponzi scheme: borrowing far more from the Earth’s ecosystems than they can sustain. 

Photo by Jenny Tañedo

Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the date when we have taken more from nature than it can renew in an entire year. Unsustainable extraction is occurring on a planetary scale: we are using natural resources 1.7 times faster in 2018 than the Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate this year. Critically, this year is the earliest date that we have gone into ecological deficit, the only deficit that truly matters.

Earth Overshoot Day is a clear and growing signal that our economies are, in the words of the Global Footprint Network, operating a giant planetary Ponzi scheme: borrowing far more from the Earth’s ecosystems than they can sustain. But we are already having to pay the price. From deadly heat waves to mass extinctions, soil erosion to dwindling water supplies, we are entering a new era of accelerating environmental collapse.

And on current trends, this is only set to worsen. Critically, those most likely to bear the violence of climate and other environmental change will be those with least past responsibility for our current situation.

The continued reliance on carbon to power our economies means that we are highly unlikely to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the ambition agreed at the Paris climate summit, increasing the chance of severe climate disruption and the resulting social stress. Meanwhile, the global food system has destroyed a third of all arable land and, at current rates, global top soil degradation means that there may only be 60 global harvests left. The collapse of ecosystems means we are in the age of the sixth mass extinction – the last being the dinosaurs – with nearly two-thirds of all vertebral life having died since the 1970s.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Systems Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Personal Resilience

As a writer focused on the global sustainability crisis, I’m often asked how to deal with the stress of knowing—knowing, that is, that we humans have severely overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity, making a collapse of both civilization and Earth’s ecological systems likely; knowing that we are depleting Earth’s resources (including fossil fuels and minerals) and clogging its waste sinks (like the atmosphere’s and oceans’ ability to absorb CO2); knowing that the decades of rapid economic growth that characterized the late 20th and early 21st centuries are ending, and that further massive interventions by central banks and governments can’t do more than buy us a little bit more time of relative stability; knowing that technology (even renewable energy technology) won’t save our fundamentally unsustainable way of life.

In the years I’ve spent investigating these predicaments, I’ve been fortunate to meet experts who have delved deeply into specific issues—the biodiversity crisis, the population crisis, the climate crisis, the resource depletion crisis, the debt crisis, the plastic waste crisis, and on and on. In my admittedly partial judgment, some of the smartest people I’ve met happen also to be among the more pessimistic. (One apparently smart expert I haven’t had opportunity to meet yet is 86-year-old social scientist Mayer Hillman, the subject of this recent article in The Guardian.)

In discussing climate change and all our other eco-social predicaments, how does one distinguish accurate information from statements intended to elicit either false hope or needless capitulation to immediate and utter doom? And, in cases where pessimistic outlooks do seem securely rooted in evidence, how does one psychologically come to terms with the information?

Systems Thinking

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Our Economy is a Degenerative System

Impacts of resource hungry exploitative economies

“What is 120 times the size of London? The answer: the land or ecological footprint required to supply London’s needs.” — Herbert Giradet

Our ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. A number of useful indicators and frameworks have been developed to measure the ecological impact that humanity and its dominant economic system with its patterns of production, consumption and waste-disposal are having on the planet and its ecosystems. The measure and methodology for ecological footprinting translates the resource use and the generation of waste of a given population (eg: community, city, or nation) into the common denominator of bio-productive land per person, measured in Global Hectares (Gha), that are needed to provide these resources and absorb those wastes.

Much of the educational power of this tool is its capacity to compare between how much bio-productive land exists on the planet with how much bio-productive land would be needed to sustain current levels of consumption. In addition it also helps us to highlight the stark inequalities in ecological impact that exists between different countries.

Source: Global Footprint Network

Ecological Footprinting is basically an accounting tool that compares how much nature we have and how much nature we use. He are currently using about 50% more ecological resources than nature is regenerating naturally every year.

This point of spending more than is coming in every year — or living of the capital rather than the interest — was reached by humanity in the late-1960s. It is called Ecological Overshoot and every year since Earth Overshoot Day — the day when humanity as a whole has already used up the bio-productivity of Earth in that year — is a little earlier. Here is a little video (3:30 min.) to explain the concepts of ecological overshoot and footprint.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Our only hope for long term survival

Our only hope for long term survival

 

Language warning: Many may find the following article offensive, such as:
  • Technocornucopians – eg geoengineering and carbon drawdown fantasists, blinkered university academics and engineers, TZM, Elon Musk etc
  • People who think reducing population and/or consumption are sacred cows which should never be mentioned
  • People who are shocked by and reject the idea that billions will die this century
  • Economists – who know the price of everything but the value of nothing
  • The Pope (who jumped on the bandwagon too late, but nice dress though)
  • Christians and other religious types
  • Global warming deniers
  • EconomistsCreationists
  • Politicians
  • Most Americans (they are mad)
  • Kim Jong Un (slightly less mad)
  • NBL fanatics (not referring to the basketball league here)
  • Economists
If you take umbrage at this article please consider the possibility you may be a fw rather than a sp

I agree entirely with Dennis Meadows that climate change should be regarded as a symptom or complication or side effect of our overshoot. Climate chaos will relentlessly worsen to become the worst problem threatening our very existence, but it is not the core problem. Furthermore it is not the most urgent problem right now. Despite many areas having been hit by severe weather events, global industrial civilisation is not immediately at risk of being brought down by climate change1. Financial and economic collapse, which are intimately linked with the depletion of “easy” (high EROEI) oil and the looming net energy cliff (which will cause all resource outputs to fall off their respective Seneca cliffs) are much more immediate threats.

I assert that those who endeavour to study our predicaments should categorise threats according to what is worst, what is at the core and what is most urgent. Climate change is just one manifestation of the Limits to Growth and is not a core problem. Trying to address climate change in isolation is and always was futile. Solitary focus on “fixing” climate change alone will result in:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?

What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?

Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. Last month, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

You cannot have a war economy if there is no war. My 4th presentation of “The Seneca Effect” in Paris 

You cannot have a war economy if there is no war. My 4th presentation of “The Seneca Effect” in Paris 

Above, at the Momentum Institute in Paris on Friday 13th, 2017. Ugo Bardi is on the left of the photo, Yves Cochet (president of the institute) is at the center, with the white shirt. 

The presentation at the Institut Momentum on Oct 13th was the fourth of a series of presentation related to my book “The Seneca Effect” that I gave in Paris last week. This one was probably the least formal one of the series. I gave some explanation of how system dynamics models can produce the asymmetric “Seneca Curve,” but I concentrated on a section of the book, the one dealing with the extermination of whales during the 19th century. It is a theme related to the concept of Anthropocene: the human relation with the ecosystem.

The point that I try to stress in these presentations is that most people, including decision-makers, just don’t have the concept of “overshoot”, that is the tendency of consuming more resources than the system can produce, forcing it to crash down after some time. It is something that I described also in a previous talk.

The problem, here, is that not having the concept of overshoot, people happy go along the Seneca trajectory, thinking that the more resources they can extract from the system, the better things are for them. They don’t realize that the more they go up, the faster they’ll have to crash down. I surmised that we have a cultural problem: it is a relatively new concept that will have to penetrate culture. That will take time and it is not obvious that it will ever happen.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope

Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Earth Overshoot: How Sustainable is Population Growth?

Earth Overshoot: How Sustainable is Population Growth?

For decades people have been predicting overpopulation would wipe out energy resources if not the entire planet. Every year the population bomb and peak oil crowd have been proven wrong. But how long can the status quo of generating growth by population explosion last?

Every year the population bomb and peak oil crowd have been proven wrong. But how long can the status quo of generating growth by population explosion last?

Reader Rick Mills at Ahead of the Herd addresses the subject in a guest blog that first appeared on his blog as Earth Overshoot Day.

Earth Overshoot Day

The second half of the 20th century saw the biggest increase in the world’s population in human history. Our population surged because of:

  • Medical advances lessened the mortality rate in many countries
  • Massive increases in agricultural productivity caused by the “Green Revolution”

The global death rate has dropped almost continuously since the start of the industrial revolution – personal hygiene, improved methods of sanitation and the development of antibiotics all played a major role.

Green Revolution

The term Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfers that happened between the 1940s and the late 1970s.

The initiatives involved:

  • Development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains
  • Expansion of irrigation infrastructure
  • Modernization of management techniques
  • Mechanization
  • Distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers

Tractors with gasoline powered internal combustion engines (versus steam) became the norm in the 1920s after Henry Ford developed his Fordson in 1917 – the first mass-produced tractor. This new technology was available only to relatively affluent farmers and it was not until the 1940s tractor use became widespread.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

He’s told us not to blow it

ScienceTheShitOuttaThis

He’s told us not to blow it

impressedtechnology

Hopefully you’ve seen the recent movie, The Martian, a film directed by Ridley Scott and adapted from the online book by Andy Weir. If you have not seen the movie or read the book, both of which I highly recommend, there will be some spoilers for the movie in this post. The movie is wonderful, featuring Matt Damon playing Mark Watney, an astronaut-botanist-mechanical engineer, “sciencing the shit” (literally) out of extreme survival in a hostile environment while accidentally left behind on Mars.

Gauld-just-jealousCultural memes in art, music, and literature indirectly reflect what’s happening in society before our conscious minds do. The explosion of zombie movies and science fiction about intrepid survivors either abandoning Earth for new planets or struggling to get back to Earth suggests that subconsciously, we know we are beyond our limits and headed in the wrong direction on this planet.

Tom Gauld cartoon
Tom Gauld cartoon

Mainstream cultural memes derived from this movie suggest the power of human technology and inventiveness through know-how and persistence. NASA may have used this movie as a rallying cry in support of more funding in general, and funding for longer-range space travel specifically. Good luck with that. It is no accident that space travel in the US peaked with the US oil peak in 1970. Viewed from my perspective of the world in descent, the movie represents something different that probably hasn’t already been said, at least in the US, where Americans’ manifest destiny still reigns supreme. I’m not sure what Andy Weir’s intentions were, beyond telling a ripping good survival yarn, but I see this movie as a symbol of what happens when we venture to the limit of what is sustainable, using extreme technology and energy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space – Part 5

The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space – Part 5

Solution Space

To use the word ‘solution’ is perhaps misleading, since it could be said to imply that circumstances exist which could allow us to continue business as usual, and this is not, in fact, the case. A crunch period cannot be avoided. We face an intractable predicament, and the consequences of overshoot are going to manifest no matter what we do. However, while we may not be able to prevent this from occurring, we can mitigate the impact and lay the foundation for a fundamentally different and more workable way of being in the world.

Acknowledging the non-negotiable allows us to avoid beating our heads against a brick wall, freeing us to focus on that which we can either influence or change, and acknowledging the limits within which we must operate, even in these areas, allows us to act far more effectively without wasting scarce resources on fantasies. There are plenty of actions which can be taken, but those with potential for building a viable future will be inexpensive, small-scale, simple, low-energy, community-based initiatives. It will be important to work with natural systems in accordance with permaculture principles, rather than in opposition to them as currently do so comprehensively.

We require viable ways forward across different timeframes, first to navigate the rapid-onset acute crisis which the bursting of a financial bubble will pitch us into, and then to reboot our global operating system into a form less reminiscent of a planet-killing ponzi scheme. The various limits we face do not manifest all at the same time, and so to some extent can be navigated sequentially. The first phase of our constrained future, which will be primarily financial and social, will occur before the onset of energy supply difficulties for instance. Some initiatives are of particular value at specific times, and other have general value across timescales.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Earth Overshoot Day and Not-For-Profit Enterprise

Earth Overshoot Day and Not-For-Profit Enterprise

In 2015, 13 August is Earth Overshoot Day. The day marks the estimated calendar date when humanity’s demand on the planet’s ecological services (which produce renewable resources and assimilate wastes) outstrips what the Earth can supply. This means that for the rest of the year, we are taking more than is regenerated, operating in Overshoot. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was August 19th. We first went into Overshoot in the late 1970s, and since then the day has crept ever earlier on the calendar. This means we are using the ecological resources of just over 1.5 Earths.

Meeting the challenge of providing for all humanity’s needs within the limits of what our Earth can provide will require a radical restructuring of the global economy. In this post I will discuss how a post-growth economy based around not-for-profit enterprise can help us get to One Planet Living.

Before we get into that, though, what is Earth Overshoot Day all about? It’s based on the concept of Ecological Footprinting, which is both a science-based sustainability metric and also a sustainability communication tool developed by the Global Footprint Network. You can read the methodological details here, but the basic idea is that the Ecological Footprint is the amount of productive space needed to provide the ecological resources and absorb the waste of an individual, a city, a business, a country or the whole world, expressed in global hectares.  An Ecological Footprint is made up of cropland, pasture, fishing grounds, forest, land built-up with buildings or infrastructure and the land needed to absorb carbon emissions, with this last one usually accounting for at least half the footprint.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

If everyone lived in an ‘ecovillage’, the Earth would still be in trouble

If everyone lived in an ‘ecovillage’, the Earth would still be in trouble

We are used to hearing that if everyone lived in the same way as North Americans or Australians, we would need four or five planet Earths to sustain us.

This sort of analysis is known as the “ecological footprint” and shows that even the so-called “green” western European nations, with their more progressive approaches to renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport, would require more than three planets.

How can we live within the means of our planet? When we delve seriously into this question it becomes clear that almost all environmental literature grossly underestimates what is needed for our civilisation to become sustainable.

Only the brave should read on.

The ‘ecological footprint’ analysis

In order to explore the question of what “one planet living” would look like, let us turn to what is arguably the world’s most prominent metric for environmental accounting – the ecological footprint analysis. This was developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, then at the University of British Columbia, and is now institutionalised by the scientific body, The Global Footprint Network, of which Wackernagel is president.

This method of environmental accounting attempts to measure the amount of productive land and water a given population has available to it, and then evaluates the demands that population makes upon those ecosystems. A sustainable society is one that operates within the carrying capacity of its dependent ecosystems.

While this form of accounting is not without its critics – it is certainly not an exact science – the worrying thing is that many of its critics actually claim that it underestimates humanity’s environmental impact. Even Wackernagel, the concept’s co-originator, is convinced the numbers are underestimates.

According to the most recent data from the Global Footprint Network, humanity as a whole is currently in ecological overshoot, demanding one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. As the global population continues its trend toward 11 billion people, and while the growth fetishcontinues to shape the global economy, the extent of overshoot is only going to increase.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Commentary on Bounding the Planetary Future: Why We Need a Great Transition

Commentary on Bounding the Planetary Future: Why We Need a Great Transition 

“Planetary boundaries” research constitutes an important advance in our ability to identify and quantify the components of global overshoot. Permit me to suggest that all presentations on planetary boundaries should include a discussion of Liebig’s Law—an ecological truism that can be boiled down to “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” We don’t have to wait for all nine boundaries to be transgressed before global calamity threatens; all it takes to shred the ecosystem web is for one boundary to be breached far enough, long enough. Seen in that light, the fact that four out of nine identified boundaries are already far behind us should be cause for profound concern.

Nevertheless, Johan Rockström’s exposition follows the familiar and necessary formula: industrial civilization is propelling us toward planetary collapse, but there is still time to change civilization’s operating system so as to ensure survival and well-being for everyone, even as population continues to grow. I have used that formula in essays and lectures any number of times, and, each time I do, I catch myself feeling just a bit disingenuous. Yes, as public intellectuals, it is our job to prescribe the medicine we think will improve the patient’s (i.e., civilization’s) condition. But is our prescription really capable of curing the disease?

Let’s face it: our patient’s condition is worsening. Further, we have seen cases like this before (i.e., there have been previous civilizations that overshot their environment’s carrying capacity), and in all instances, the outcome was dire. Nevertheless, following the discursive formula, a hypothetical treatment is proposed, consisting of energy substitution, massive resource efficiency improvements, wealth redistribution, and global governance; though it has never been tried, it seems to be our only hope.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

OVERdevelopment, OVERpopulation, OVERshoot

OVERdevelopment, OVERpopulation, OVERshoot

William Ryerson’s introduction to the new book OVERdevelopment, OVERpopulation, OVERshoot.

MOST CONVERSATIONS ABOUT POPULATION begin with statistics—demographic data, fertility rates in this or that region, the latest reports on malnutrition, deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change, and so on. Such data, while useful, fails to generate mass concern about the fundamental issue affecting the future of the Earth.

In reality, every discussion about population involves people, the world that our children and grandchildren will live to see and the health of the planet that supports all life. In my roles as president of Population Media Center and CEO of the Population Institute, I spend most of my time in developing countries, where many of my friends and acquaintances are educated and prospering. But I also know individuals who are homeless, unemployed, or hungry. The vast majority of people in these societies, regardless of their current status, do not enjoy a safety net. They live from day to day in hopes that their economic circumstances will improve. Abstract statistics on poverty are irrelevant to families struggling to secure the food, water, and resources needed to sustain a decent life.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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