2017 was one of the three warmest years on record.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management, Oregon

Overshot and overheated

Environmentalists have warned that the Earth’s 2018 budget of natural resources has already been used up – in less than eight months. And US meteorologists state that 2017 was one of the three warmest years on record, the other two having been 2015 and 2016.

“Earth Overshoot Day”, the point in the year at which humans have exhausted the planet’s annual supplies of natural resources and outstripped nature’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, was already reached on the 1st August this year. In 2000, Earth Overshoot Day, the date of which is worked out by the independent think tank Global Footprint Network, occurred in late September.

Carbon dioxide emissions are outpacing intake of the gas by trees and the oceans, while forests are being cut down and fish are being caught more quickly than nature can replenish them. The Global Footprint Network has worked out that in 2018, we will be using up the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to support human civilisation. It estimates that by 2020, human demand on the planet’s ecosystems is set to exceed  what nature is able to regenerate by 75 per cent.

“We would move the date of Earth Overshoot Day 38 days if everyone in the world consumed world average calories, reduced the Footprint intensity of their diet, and cut food waste in half,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and chief executive of the Global Footprint Network, in a recent Tweet. Wackernagel maintains that meeting the goals set by the United Nations to tackle climate change requires a new way of living on the planet.

The Global Footprint Network, which was founded in 2003 to promote tools for advancing sustainability, holds that current technology could make such a new way of living feasible. It also points to the stimulating effect that a new course would have on the development of renewable energy and other emerging sectors.

On the other hand, carbon dioxide levels have reached the highest level in the past 800,000 years, according to the 28th State of the Climate report, which is published once a year by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The findings of the report were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the 1st August.

Referring to the heat levels of the past three years, NOAA climatologist and lead report author Deke Arndt speaks of a “new neighbourhood in terms of global temperature”. Ocean temperatures have continued their upward trend, too, adding to coral bleaching. According to the report, more than 95 per cent of corals died in some reefs. Sea levels have also continued to rise. And in the Arctic, the maximum sea ice extent in 2017 was lowest since record-keeping started in 1980, while sea ice coverage in Antarctica reached its lowest point since the introduction of satellite recording in 1978.

 

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany