It’s Earth Overshoot Day and future generations are calling


July 28 is Earth Overshoot Day. From this day forward, for the remainder of 2022, human economic activity will use the planet’s resources beyond its ability to renew them. Humans are now consuming things like wood, water and soil at nearly twice the rate the planet can sustain.

We are also rapidly approaching climate overshoot, beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, by 2030. The Climate Overshoot Commission will meet several times this year to discuss ways to prevent this from happening. Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization calculates a 50% chance of hitting the 1.5 degree threshold by 2026. Recent storms, fires, floods and intensified droughts are all symptoms of the fever.

The dominoes fall. Resource consumption is driving climate change, and the main driver of consumption is population growth. Strategies of perpetual economic growth require ever-increasing consumption, require more and more people, push us to surpass ourselves.

National economic growth policies are based on a pyramid scheme – fueling GDP growth with population growth. Population growth brings more people into the economy, and a bigger economy creates an illusion of wealth and prosperity, when in reality there are only a few big winners. Like the classic Ponzi scheme, both the initiator and those in the lead profit; latecomers end up with the bag.

In the 1960s, the idea of ​​the obvious unsustainability of population growth leading to world starvation and a crash in the 1970s and 1980s was known as the “population bomb”. But advances in family planning, birth control and women’s empowerment have halved the average number of children per woman worldwide. A lower population resulted, so the predicted famine and crash did not materialize.

But we continued to exceed the planet’s capacity to meet the demand for food, water and natural resources, and to absorb our greenhouse gas emissions. This has resulted in huge costs for future generations, which are now coming to an end.

The Ponzi scheme still manages the global economy for maximum consumption and perpetual growth. Nature is ignored, while future generations of human beings are ignored to drive GDP growth. The children of today, late in the Ponzi scheme, were born into a world with abysmal levels of literacy and education, collapsing ecologies, massive inequalities and failing democracies.

The scheme is built on a lie: that the decision to have children is a private matter. The truth is that having children creates public consequences. Growth today on a finite planet means less to go around tomorrow. The smallest slices of pie are cut at the busiest tables.

In this photo provided by NASA, a landscape of mountains and valleys dotted with twinkling stars is actually the edge of a nearby young star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula on July 12, 2022. in the space.
NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI via Getty Images

Realizing this, some choose not to have children. They worry about the worsening conditions the children will face. But as a group of Nobel laureates also acknowledges, population growth is the greatest threat to the planet, and this should factor into reproductive decisions.

Security and equity for future generations require a smaller and more sustainable population. Achieving this requires funding family planning, encouraging parental preparedness, spacing births, encouraging smaller families, empowering women and girls. Such approaches yield greater returns than any other investment except trade liberalization.

Population growth is now expected to reach 10.4 billion people around 2080 before leveling off. It could begin to decline around 2100. Even if we consciously choose to have fewer children and reach this inflection point sooner, there will still be billions more children born in this century who will be faced with daunting scarcity and inequality of resources. But there are practical steps we can take now to make their lives fairer. We could expand Sen. Cory Booker’s (DN.J.) baby bond proposals to level the playing field for all children.

A few of us are suggesting that those who profited the most from the Ponzi scheme pay a portion of it. Future children represent the majority of humans who will one day live on the planet, so their interests outweigh ours. This is a compelling case for reclaiming some of the wealth to create fairer, more cooperative, and prosocial conditions for children in the future.

For the billions who will join us on the planet in this century, the pursuit of equity means putting a lien on the great concentrations of wealth today, to cover the costs that the wealthy will impose on future generations. This act of liberation at the beginning of every human life advances the intergenerational, environmental and reproductive layers of justice. It’s a path to a viable rather than a dreadful future. We should choose to take it.

Carter Dillard is the Policy Director of the Fair Start Movement and author of Justice as a good start in life: understanding the right to have children.

Carl Safina is president of Safina Center and Endowed Professor for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.


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