Thursday, August 13, 2015

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

Today is when humankind's use of natural resources exceeds the planet's ability to produce and replenish them. Our planet can heal itself. It can regrow plants, rebuild fish stocks, reabsorb carbon from the air, and return clean water to lakes, rivers and underground aquifers. But these processes take time.

According to WWF's Living Planet Report, starting around 1970, we began to take more from the planet each year than it could restore. Since then, the gap between our rate of consumption and the planet's rate of regeneration has widened from a crevice to a chasm. The first Earth Overshoot Day fell in late December. This year, it falls on August 13.

Greenhouse gas emissions and food production are leading contributors to overshoot, and with it, climate change. In turn, this has set off a chain reaction: climate change drives extreme weather which contributes to food insecurity, and ultimately, to political and social strife. Indeed, in 2007 and 2008, wheat shortages in Russia and China drove up food prices in Egypt and other already fragile societies, triggering riots in many and pushing some into revolution. Researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute identified in a 2011 report more than 30 "food riots" and protests in the wake of food-price spikes in 2008, leading to thousands of deaths. They further warned that chronically high food prices “should lead to persistent and increasing global unrest.” We might not know what the next food shortages will look like, but scientific and historical evidence tells us that they will come — and that they will be increasingly severe and prolonged.

We also know that, based on a decades-long trajectory, Earth Overshoot Day will come earlier next year, and earlier still the year after that.

It is obvious to those in the World Socialist Movement that today human needs are far from being met on a world scale and that fairly rapid growth in the production of food, housing and other basic amenities would still be needed for some years even if production ceased to be governed by the economic laws of capitalism. However it should not be forgotten that a socialist "steady-state economy" would be a much more normal situation than an economy geared to blindly accumulating more and more means of production. After all, the only rational reason for accumulating means of production is to eventually be in a position to satisfy all reasonable consumption needs. Once the stock of means of production has reached this level, in a society with this goal, accumulation, or the further expansion of the stock of means of production, can stop and production levels be stabilised. Logically, this point would eventually be reached, since the consumption needs of a given population are finite.

So if human society is to be able to organise its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must abolish the capitalist economic mechanism of capital accumulation and gear production instead to the direct satisfaction of needs.