Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity exhausts earth’s ecological budget for the year. This year Earth Overshoot Day landed on 22 August 2020 beyond which we are in ecological deficit. Heat and humidity crank up electricity demand and adversely affect power plant generation efficiency.
Plants and animals are here since millions of years on planet. They have inherited ability to adapt to global cooling and warming. Ice Age occured from 115,000 to 11,000 years ago during which plants, animals and humans learnt how to adapt to changing climate. Plants adapted at their natural locations, mammoths, mastodons, woolly rhinos and saber-toothed cats roamed the landscape, and humans lived in caves and roamed Siberia to Alaska.
Average temperature during Ice Age was 7°C in tropics and -7.8°C in polar regions that is now more than 14°C. A global warming spell may raise global average temperature a few degrees higher to which plants, animals and humans will adapt, except a few species. There are many species of plants and animals which used to thrive on planet and are no more now. Earlier climate changes were triggered by natural events and the looming global warming is result of human activities.
Human demand for natural ecological resources is exceeding earth’s regeneration capacity in entire year. Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) refers to massive use of natural ecological resources and accretion of useless waste. Most of wastes like oil spills in oceans and plastics are not part of nature. We are on track to use earth’s future ecological reserves in present which is a wake-up-call for all of us.
Earth overshot day used to land in Decembers in middle of 1970s, Novembers in middle of 1980s, in Octobers at end of 1990s, in Septembers from 2000s to 2017. EOD started occurring in August sin 2018 and in July in 2019. This year EOD landed on 22 August due to covid-19 pandemic [Braun 2020]. If past is mirror image of future, then next overshoot day may land in late June or early July in 2021. We consume earth’s annual capacity in first 7 or 8 months and operate in deficit for the rest of year.
Human carbon footprint was zero before start of industrial revolution two centuries ago. Most part of the GHG emissions and air pollutants come from combustion of coal, oil and gas in energy and transport sectors. Humans are using more natural resources than earth can renew in entire year. World community annually emits 40 billion tons of CO2 that never happened in last 50 million years. Global ecological production was 1.7gha/person and consumption was 2.28gha/person in 2012 [WWF 2016].
Earth overshot day may be calculated mathematically by dividing the world bio-capacity (the amount of natural resources generated by Earth that year), by global ecological footprint (human consumption of Earth's natural resources for that year), and multiplying it by 365. The remainder number that is often more than 200 is the earth’s overshoot day.
Our annual energy consumption is 60x10^20 joules that is a fraction 2.5x10^21 joules annual solar irradiance on earth. Energy releases in one supernova explosion is 1x10^44 joules that is less than 5.3x10^46 joules energy released in collision of two black holes in fraction of a second. Energy is finite in nature, especially on our planet so sustainability is the way forward.
Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by energy (31%), transportation (15%), manufacturing (12%), agriculture (11%) and forestry (6%) sectors. China contributes 24.3% of GHG emissions followed by United States (13.4%), Europe (9.1%), India (6.3%), Russia (4.95) and Japan (2.7%). China and India face air pollution hitches as America, Australia and Russia face wild fires setbacks. Amazingly, none of the major GHG emitters is in list of top ten climate hit countries.
According to German Watch, Puerto Rico & Haiti in west and Pakistan & Bangladesh in east were most affected by climate from 2007 to 2017. Natural winds and ocean thermohaline circulations keep on transferring carbon dioxide to maintain a natural balance. Most Indian, Japanese and Chinese carbon dioxide emissions end up in oceans near America that is natural sink of carbon.
Water, carbon and nitrogen cycles feedback the natural ecology. Melting ice sheets and glaciers pose high risk to fresh water in plains for agriculture. Glaciers have lost 28 trillion tons of snow in last 24 years from 1994 to 2017. Staggering ice loss may increase sea level by 3 feet in next 80 years [Dave 2019]. Arctic fires in Siberia, heat waves in Antarctica, wild fires in America and Australia are signs of warming weathers. Solar and wind power generation capacities have increased collectively more than 1300 GW that is a fraction of total energy being used today.
Nuclear fission generates cleans energy, but flood of cheap shale oil and gas has battered aging nuclear plants clinging with broken thread of life. To capture carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants and bear cost of radioactive waste management is expensive job. Germany is phasing out coal and nuclear power plants, UAE has inaugurated first nuclear plant, and there is competition between China and America on nuclear plants in Africa. Climate change is affecting nuclear plants by floods, heat and water stresses.
United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures is likely to rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 if warming continues at the current rate. Parris accord is the only option to reduce carbon footprint from which dominant GHG emitters are escaping. There can be hope if we reduce GHG emission in energy, transport, industry, farming and housing sectors. World needs continuous policy on gradual reduction of GHG emissions.
Cooling cars and homes with higher capacity air conditioners is not feasible solution as more we use power more we emit green gases. We cool interiors at expense of overheating exteriors. We have to replace electric refrigeration by natural solar vapor compression and absorption refrigeration systems. Heat and water stresses affect both machines and minds.
According UN report 34% people used to live in cities in 1960 who increased to 55% in 2020 and likely to further increase to 80% by 2050. In developing agrarian economies like Pakistan population in cities used to be 32.5% in 1998 which increased to 36.4% in 2017. Local urbanization rate is 20% compared to global urbanization rate of 35%. Who will grow crops if everybody starts living in big cities?
To prevent rapid urbanization and reduce load on roads governments need to decentralize resources like health, education and employment. Continued construction of hospitals, universities and factories in big cities increases rush on roads and cities. If rural populations have facilities near their home, then they will never need to go to big cities apart from casual visits.
World produces more than 10 billion tons of cement for construction industry. Wars, floods, earthquakes, and transport vehicles destroy buildings and road infrastructures to create zillions of tons of waste. Our built environment is outgrowing natural environment that existed here since millions of years. Deforesting and urbanizing practices are reducing ecological resources and increasing consumptions. Cement is now referred to be the worst material on planet [Jonathan 2019].
Recycling plastics in building materials can reduce ocean contamination and air pollution. Plastics pieces are found in fishes and marine species which go to human stomachs. Many marine die entangled with plastic nets, ropes and envelopes. We make plastics using oil that is not part of nature. Earth converted surplus carbon in atmosphere into oil and buried it in deep surface. Human eye found it 250 years ago that was buried there since millions of years.
We can reduce our ecological footprint by reducing energy and power consumptions. Reduce, recycle and reuse policies can save earth’s ecological budget. Innovative energy efficient appliances, renewable energies, cold water detergents, green products and blue technologies can reduce GHG emissions. Smart grid, micro and nano grids pave the way out of ecological disasters.
Simple living, frugality and low carbon footprints need to made standard of high morality. You may pray according to your own faith system to seek mental comfort yet you have duty to society in which you live. Your luxurious way of life affects others so you have to responsible to the society. There are many good and bad things the most desired good is to reduce your carbon footprint.
Forests absorb carbon dioxide from air and sequester it into hardwood for years. A few species of trees have been performing their duty since last 5000 years. Prophet Muhammad advised to plant the tree in your hand even if you see doomsday looming upon you. A large tree provides fruits, oxygen, wood, habitat to birds and evaporative cooling of one air conditioner in summer.
One solution of high carbon content in atmosphere is direct capture of carbon dioxide and storage or carbon capture & sequestration at power plants. CCS technologies have developed and installed worldwide at experimental stages. Fuhrman has pointed out a new worry of food- energy-water nexus. Our high yield crops need carbon dioxide and water that may be affected by melting glaciers and carbon capture technologies. Rampant rise in population and rapid decline in crops may increase food prices more than 5 folds in some countries [Fuhrman 2020].
Digging down to root of climate, energy, food and water issues is the population explosion guzzling all commodities on planet. Urbanization, transportation, productivities, deforestation and sustainability issues are direct result of zillions of users. Human demands are topping planet’s production capacity. Our color, race and caste based systems are narrowing breathing space for minorities.
Heat and humidity increase cooling demand that requires more electricity. Heat affects power plant’s generation efficiency that leads to more fuel for same electricity. More than 94.99% fires are caused by broken power lines, lightning strikes and cigarettes in USA and Australia. On million hectares burnt in fire simply convert carbon into carbon dioxide without changing earth’s carbon budget. However, carbon needs two oxygen molecules that disturbs fresh air supply.
Digitalization is touted to be ultimate solution for power and energy sectors. Big data analytics and digital devices consume huge amount of energy that affects the environment. BTC is a cryptocurrency requires lot of computing power. Cost to mine one BTM is $7500 still miner earns $4000. A bitcoin is a computer file stored in your digital wallet. You can send and receive bitcoins and transactions are recorded in public list called blockchain. Bitcoin blockchain is a global distributed ledger consisting of data blocks sequentially linked in a chain. Data is stored on different bitcoin mining nodes.
Bitcoin minding industry, hashing through complex algorithms, consumes 7.5GW power (63.32 TWh) at 120 EH/s speed that is likely to increase to 10.6 GW at 260 EH/s speed after replacing S9 rigs with S17 or S19 next year. Bitcoin mining is least transparent in broader Bitcoin Ecosystem [BitOoda 2020].
Braun S, Coronavirus Pandemic Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks, But It's Not Sustainable, Deutsche Welle. Ecowatch, 21 August 2020.
WWF (2016). Living Planet Report 2016. Gland, Switzerland: WWF International. p. 77. ISBN 978-2-940529-40-7.
Dave M, Aylin W, What Earth might look like in 80 years if we're lucky — and if we're not, Business Insider, 17 October 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/paris-climate-change-limits-100-years-2017-6?r=US&IR=T
Jonathan W, Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth, The Guardian, 25 February 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/feb/25/concrete-the-most-destructive-material-on-earth
Fuhrman, J., McJeon, H., Patel, P. et al. Food–energy–water implications of negative emissions technologies in a +1.5 °C future. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0876-z
BitOoda, Bitcoin Mining Hashrate and Power Analysis, BitOoda Research, 15 July 2020. https://medium.com/@BitOoda/bitcoin-mining-hashrate-and-power-analysis-bitooda-research-ebc25f5650bf