20% of the world’s wealthiest citizens consume most of the Earth’s renewable resources. The consume most of the Earth’s renewable resources. The rest of the world’s citizens bring that consumption to more than what the Earth’s biosphere can
Humanity borrows the renewable resources used from August 1st to the end of the yearfrom the future. If everyone on Earth were to live a lifestyle that US citizens enjoy, the Earth overshoot day would be March 15th. That’s over four times the renewable resources that the Earth’s biosphere can produce.
Capitalism, the political-economy of the Modern World, is running civilization into the ground. People the world over are doing what they can to get and maximize privileged energy-intensive lifestyles similar to the lifestyles enjoyed by people here in the US. The Earth’s inhabitants can only steal so much from the future before the ecosystem breaks The results would not be pretty. What can be done? Deny others the privileges we give ourselves? The wealthiest 20% are not happy and want more. China and India want material lifestyles like ours. Everyone wants to be unhappy. The privileged energy-intensive lifestyles we enjoy are absurd and unsustainable. More absurd is that people take this state of affairs for granted and think it’s normal.
The math is simple. A civilization that can’t contain its consumption habits will destroy the environment on which it depends and crash. Environmental overshoot has been the downfall of many a civilization. We are the first civilization that covers the entire Earth. It’s never happened on this scale. While overpopulation is a factor, most of the problems come from wealth and the consumption of resources that wealth makes possible. There would be no overshoot day if everyone in the world lived lifestyles like the peoples of Africa. The only African country on the overshoot day graphic is Egypt. Collectively the poor in Africa number close to 20% of the world’s population while producing less than 3 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses. Remember that the next time someones says the problem is overpopulation.
The Enlightenment created the Industrial Revolution that produced a Modern World incompatible with life on Earth. Human’s success at oversurvival is a liability that threatens to undermine everything we know and hold dear. The human capacity to engineer survival for individual members is threatening to undermine the survival of the species. We’ve wrought this disaster upon ourselves. As Carl Sagan says in A Pale Blue Dot, “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
What can we do? Individuals could use less energy. There is pressure to reduce the amount of energy use, to make things more efficient but much of that innovation ends up in increased consumption. Given the libertarian convictions of modern individuals, the prognosis does not look good. The situation we are in is like a lung cancer patient who refuses to quit smoking.