Every year the Global Footprint Network calculates the Earth Overshoot Day or Earth Debt Day. This is the date that marks when humanity’s resource consumption for the year had exceeded Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year.
In 1987, the first year in which the EOD was calculated, the date of this surplus was the 19th of December. This year it was on August 1st.
Many reports suggest that we should stop having so many children, claiming that they are the main cause of our overconsumption. They claim that the Earth cannot keep up with the number of people on it, especially in the South of the world, and that underdeveloped countries need to be educated and have fewer children, to “get on the same level as us” (n.b. the author being an EU citizen).
But to overcome resource scarcity, do less developed countries need to catch up with more developed or high-income countries? Not necessarily.
‘Instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with rich countries, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development.’
Going back to the Global Footprint Network I mentioned before, it not only calculates the EOD (Earth Overshoot Day), but also each country’s Overshoot Day, which is the date that Earth Overshoot Day would fall on, if all of humanity consumed like the people in that particular country. This is where it gets more interesting, as we consider that, if the whole world consumed as much as a typical British citizen, we would need 2.9 piles of earth or 4.4 if we all lived like Americans.
As Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at LSE said in his essay ‘The Death of International Development’ “instead of talking about ‘developing’ the ‘underdeveloped’ countries, perhaps we need to start talking about de-developing the overdeveloped countries.”
Jason Hickel’s report in 2015, “The Death of International Development”, marked global biocapacity (an estimate of our planet’s production of certain biological materials such as natural resources, and its absorption and filtering of other materials such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) is 1.68 global hectares per person.
If you’re an average person in countries like Vietnam or Niger, your consumption is likely to be around 1.6 gha, while in Europe the average consumption level is 5 gha per person. In massive contrast to the first two countries, that becomes 8.22 in the United States and 9.31 in Australia!
This means that there’s a clear abuse of the available natural resources by wealthier states.
Given the current situation of climate change and environmental risk, this resource bullying should outrage us more than the idea of too many people inhabiting the planet.
In conclusion, to quote again Hickel’s essay, instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with wealthier countries, we should be thinking of ways to get wealthier countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development. We should look to societies where people live full and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption, not as basket cases that need to be developed toward western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.
Eleonora Paesani, MSc Development Studies