“That’s what they say. Scientists and mathematicians and stuff. They’re calling today the Day of No Return or something. It’s the day that we use resources too fast to renew them.”
“So…we wrecked the Earth?”
“Yeah! Let’s celebrate!” He tossed the plastic water bottle sitting in the cup holder of his folding chair into the bonfire, where it slowly twisted itself into a gnarled hand. We watched as the tiny black beads formed from the clear skin, hissing angrily as they dripped into the fire.
Brownish flares erupted in time with each new burst of sound.
“Nice.” So I threw mine in too.
I recently remembered this exchange and decided to Google whatever it was he’d been talking about. Turns out he was more than a little bit off and not in a good way.
It’s actually called Earth Overshoot Day and it’s not just some educated guess as to the tipping point of sustainable consumption. According to the metrics of a UK think tank called the New Economics Foundation, that day came and went sometime in the late 1970s.
Now, NEF attempts to measre exactly how far past our means Earthlings are living. The answer is not pretty.
That day that my buddy had been talking about, that point of exhaustion? August 21. We had used up a year’s supply of everything in just eight short months. Apparently, we now consume resources at a rate of more than one and a half times what the Earth can produce.
I write this from a torn point of view. One part of me says that we’ve solved everything else so far, so why should this be the end of the world? We’ve overcome religious prophecies, the specter of nuclear annihilation and every disease in the last 50,000 years.
The other side of me remembers this with a morbid sort of amusement.
We both knew that we were killing the planet—however slightly—for the sake of a joke.
I know most people can identify with how it feels, though.
How it feels to be so apathetic about your impact on the planet that you simply cannot be bothered to worry about the future.
We’re all guilty of the tragedy of the commons; it’s why barely half of us vote, it’s what feeds our foreign oil addiction, it’s why we shop at Wal-Mart and buy Chinese imports even as we lose jobs to places overseas.
Hell, it’s why advocacy groups for have to be so shrill about everything under the sun. There are too many of us for anyone to care about all of us, so we look out for number one.
Perhaps that’s why I believe that the population and conspicuous consumption may be the biggest threat man has ever seen—because everyone wants an easy way to feel good and they’ll pay any price.