On Wednesday the global environmentalist movement commemorated “Earth Overshoot Day,” which marks the moment when the world population has supposedly consumed all the earth’s resources allocated for the year—fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, water and wood—and so began to “overexploit” the planet.
Each year, an environmental advocacy group called the Global Footprint Network (GFN) calculates the day when the year’s available resources run out and mankind begins overconsuming nature. In the year 2000, “Earth Overshoot Day” was celebrated at the end of September, in 2016 it struck on August 8, and now, in 2017, it has moved six days earlier, to August 2.
“We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester,” the group exclaims on its website.
“By August 2, 2017, we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year,” GFN announced.
According to a breathless frontpage article in the French daily Le Monde, complete with infographics illustrating how each year the date creeps earlier in the calendar, we would need 1.7 “earths” in order to sustain humanity’s current level of consumption.
France seems to take the annual event more seriously than most, and its Minister of the Ecological Transition (yes, that really exists), Nicolas Hulot, publicly addressed the nation on the horrors of Earth Overshoot Day. The video was festooned with English subtitles to make sure that Americans, who unceremoniously bailed out of the Paris Climate Accord, could follow.
“We must shift from a cowboy economy to a cosmonaut economy,” Hulot warned.
Dread of consuming all the earth’s resources is as old as human population studies, with their most celebrated exponent—Rev. Thomas Malthus—having laid out his apocalyptic theories in the late 18th century. In his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus described in now-familiar terms how population growth would soon exceed man’s ability to produce food, leading to mass starvation and wars.
Despite Malthus having been proved spectacularly wrong—since food production grew at a far faster rate than the population—Neo-Malthusian theories have emerged sporadically in the intervening years, with one of the most famous examples being Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 doomsday bestseller: The Population Bomb.
With its over-the-top forecasts of global disaster, Ehrlich’s book caused generalized pandemonium in the 1970s by creating fears of a global population explosion.
Ehrlich sold the world the idea that mankind stood on the brink of Armageddon because there was simply no way to feed the exponentially increasing world population. The opening line set the tone for the whole book: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.”
Being a well-credentialed scientist—as a biologist lecturing at Stanford University—Ehrlich’s trumpet blare of the end times struck many as the plausible theory of an “expert.”
In the book, Ehrlich laid out the catastrophic future of the planet. He predicted that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s (and that 65 million of them would be Americans), that already-overpopulated India was doomed, and that odds were fair that “England will not exist in the year 2000.”
Needless to say, human history proved Ehrlich wrong as well, although many young people today still cling to the myth of overpopulation—testimony to the enduring legacy of a well-told lie.
For all its cleverness, “Earth Overshoot Day” shows every indication of being more of the same—artificially generated hysteria based on a series of projections that have little or no basis in fact.
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