A Few Things Ill Considered

Global Day of Overshoot

August 13th was Earth Overshoot Day. The correct date, if calculated precisely, would come earlier and earlier each year, the current choice is just an approximation.

This year, the year 2015, by sometime around August 13th, humanity had consumed as much of what we require from the lands and seas as our planet can sustainabley provide in an entire year. That is another way of expressing the fact that at current consumption rates, humanity requires 1.6 planet earth’s worth of fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood and other organic materials. It is a remarkable annual deficit, and if it is not reduced to zero, we will simply run out of things vital to our survival. That is the simple arithmetic of “unsustainable”.

But what does “unsustainable” look like?

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot cover

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot by Tom Butler, William Ryerson, et al (Goff Books, March 2015)

One of the (very few) perks of blogging is the occasional free book offer that comes to my inbox. I don’t often take advantage of them mostly just because of personal disinterest in whatever specific topic is at hand. Out of those offers that are interesting to me, I have to be realistic about what I am going to have time to read. An offer came to me a while ago that finally ticked those boxes. It was about an interesting, if bleak, subject: the mark humans have made on this planet through overpopulation and over consumption, and it was promising to be readable without a large time commitment since it was primarily a book of photography. I’m talking about the extraordinary book, Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot by Tom Butler, William Ryerson, et al published by Goff Books, March 2015.

Because of this promotional book, I can show you, in the most graphic manner you might want, the answer to my rhetorical question above: what does unsustainable look like? The book is filled with high quality images from around the world. Images “framed with essays by renowned women’s rights, population and conservation experts,” images that illuminate “the depth of the damage that human numbers and behavior have caused to the Earth — and which threaten humanity’s future prosperity.”* Some of these images are awe-inspiring, some rather horrifying, but almost all of them are disturbingly compelling. Below are some examples reproduced here with permission of the publisher. I recommend buying the book and seeing them all.

Images are linked to higher resolution versions, please click.


Air pollution, C02, and water vapor rise from the stacks at a coal-burning power plant in the U.K.; © Jason Hawkes.

Air pollution, C02, and water vapor rise from the stacks at a coal-burning power plant in the U.K.; © Jason Hawkes.

Tar sands-related tailings ponds are among the largest toxic impoundments on Earth and lie in unlined dykes mere meters from the Athabasca River; indigenous communities downstream are fearful of being poisoned by toxic seepage into the food chain. Alberta, Canada; © Garth Lentz.

Tar sands-related tailings ponds are among the largest toxic impoundments on Earth and lie in unlined dykes mere meters from the Athabasca River; indigenous communities downstream are fearful of being poisoned by toxic seepage into the food chain. Alberta, Canada; © Garth Lentz.

Trucks the size of a house look like tiny toys as they rumble along massive roads in a section of a mine. The largest of their kind, these 400 ton capacity dump trucks are 47.5" long, 32.5" wide, and 25" high. Within their dimensions you could build a 3000 square foot home.  The scale of the Tar Sands is truly unfathomable. Alberta Energy has reported that the landscape being industrialized by rapid Tar Sands development could easily accommodate one Florida, two New Brunswicks, four Vancouvers, and four Vancouver Islands.

Trucks the size of a house look like tiny toys as they rumble along massive roads in a section of a mine. The largest of their kind, these 400 ton capacity dump trucks are 47.5″ long, 32.5″ wide, and 25″ high. Within their dimensions you could build a 3000 square foot home. The scale of the Tar Sands is truly unfathomable. Alberta Energy has reported that the landscape being industrialized by rapid Tar Sands development could easily accommodate one Florida, two New Brunswicks, four Vancouvers, and four Vancouver Islands.

On Midway Island, far from the centers of world commerce, an albatross, dead from ingesting too much plastic, decays on the beach; it is a common sight on the remote island. © Chris Jordan.

On Midway Island, far from the centers of world commerce, an albatross, dead from ingesting too much plastic, decays on the beach; it is a common sight on the remote island. © Chris Jordan.

Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya catches a wave in a remote but garbage-covered bay on Java, Indonesia, the world’s most populated island; © Zak Noyle.

Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya catches a wave in a remote but garbage-covered bay on Java, Indonesia, the world’s most populated island; © Zak Noyle.

Sprawling Mexico City, Mexico, population 20 million, density 24,600/square mile (9,610/square kilometer), rolls across the landscape, displacing every scrap of natural habitat; © Pablo Lopez Luz.

Sprawling Mexico City, Mexico, population 20 million, density 24,600/square mile (9,610/square kilometer), rolls across the landscape, displacing every scrap of natural habitat; © Pablo Lopez Luz.

“American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. the far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future.” —James Howard Kunstler Los Angeles, California, population 15 million typifies America’s consumption-oriented and cardependent culture; © Mike Hedge.

“American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. the far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future.” —James Howard Kunstler
Los Angeles, California, population 15 million typifies America’s consumption-oriented and car-dependent culture; © Mike Hedge.

Suburban Sprawl: “Human agriculture and industry are embedded in and supported by the natural ecosystems of earth.... Yet modern societies heedlessly displace, poison, overharvest, and directly assault natural ecosystems with little thought for their importance in their own sustenance.” —Paul and Anne Ehrlich aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades; Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO.

Suburban Sprawl: “Human agriculture and industry are embedded in and supported by the natural ecosystems of earth…. Yet modern societies heedlessly displace, poison, overharvest, and directly assault natural ecosystems with little thought for their importance in their own sustenance.” —Paul and Anne Ehrlich aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades; Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO.

To give a better sense of what you are looking at just above, right below is a full resolution enlargement of a small section from the center of this image:

Detail from Suburban Sprawl: Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO.

Detail from Suburban Sprawl: Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO.

Delhi Grid: “Humans evolved in wild nature. Only relatively recently in our time on Earth, roughly ten to twelve millennia ago, did we begin to domesticate other species—and ourselves. That first agricultural revolution set humanity on a trajectory of population growth and settlement-based land use. Increased social organization and the invention of cities went hand in hand to allow development of increasingly complex economic and political systems. In 2008, for the first time in history, the majority of humans on Earth lived in cities. We had become, at least superficially, urban animals.”Aerial view of New Delhi, India, population 22 million, density 30,000 per square mile (11,700/km2); Google Earth/2014 Digital Globe.

Delhi Grid: “Humans evolved in wild nature. Only relatively recently in our time on Earth, roughly ten to twelve millennia ago, did we begin to domesticate other species—and ourselves. That first agricultural revolution set humanity on a trajectory of population growth and settlement-based land use. Increased social organization and the invention of cities went hand in hand to allow development of increasingly complex economic and political systems. In 2008, for the first time in history, the majority of humans on Earth lived in cities. We had become, at least superficially, urban animals.”Aerial view of New Delhi, India, population 22 million, density 30,000 per square mile (11,700/km2); Google Earth/2014 Digital Globe.

As with the image of Florida, below is a full-resolution enlargement of a small section from the center-bottom portion of the New Delhi image above:

Delhi Grid: Detail from center, bottom of Aerial view of New Delhi, India, population 22 million, density 30,000 per square mile (77,700/km2); Google Earth/2014 Digital Globe.

Delhi Grid: Detail from center, bottom of Aerial view of New Delhi, India, population 22 million, density 30,000 per square mile (77,700/km2); Google Earth/2014 Digital Globe.

Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million; © Mike Hedge.

Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million; © Mike Hedge.

“I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.” —Ed Begley, Jr. Depleting oil fields are yet another symptom of ecological overshoot; Kern River Oil Field, California, U.S.; © Mark Gamba/Corbis.

“I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.” —Ed Begley, Jr.
Depleting oil fields are yet another symptom of ecological overshoot; Kern River Oil Field, California, U.S.; © Mark Gamba/Corbis.

Cattle gather near a watering pond as fires set to clear and rejuvenate the land burn on a ranch in Sao Felix Do Xingu Municipality, Para State, Brazil, Aug. 12, 2008. Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Cattle gather near a watering pond as fires set to clear and rejuvenate the land burn on a ranch in Sao Felix Do Xingu Municipality, Para State, Brazil, Aug. 12, 2008.
Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Cattle ranch in Agua Boa, Mato Grosso, Brazil, August 8, 2008. Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Cattle ranch in Agua Boa, Mato Grosso, Brazil, August 8, 2008.
Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Desolate landscape of working oil pumps on the Kern River Oil Field --- Image by © Mark Gamba/Gallery Stock/Galeries/Corbis

Desolate landscape of working oil pumps on the Kern River Oil Field — Image by © Mark Gamba/Gallery Stock/Galeries/Corbis

Sometimes called the Brazil of the North, Canada has not been kind to its native forests. Image of clear-cut logging on Vancouver Island, © Garth Lentz.

Sometimes called the Brazil of the North, Canada has not been kind to its native forests. Image of clear-cut logging on Vancouver Island, © Garth Lentz.

Views of the PSA container port in Singapore, the world's largest and busiest port in the world.

Views of the PSA container port in Singapore, the world’s largest and busiest port in the world.

* Quotes borrowed from some of the promotional materials that came with the book offer.

Comments

  1. #1 The Peak Oil Poet
    New Zealand
    August 25, 2015

    apropos?

    for our sons and daughters too

    when all of what we are today
    is dim dim distant past
    a racial memory mostly myth
    known to the shaman caste

    i wonder what they’ll think of us
    when sitting by the fire
    and hearing of the things we did
    like gods but so much higher

    “the great great gods of long ago
    they walked upon the moon
    they drank the very blood of earth
    from death they were immune”

    “they did not walk upon the ground
    but through the air they flew
    and everything there is to know
    the ancient gods they knew”

    i guess the stories that they tell
    the children will devour
    they’ll dream that they were just like us
    and had enormous power

    i doubt they could imagine though
    the real truth to tell
    of how we raped their planet
    and we made our lives a hell

    they’ll never know the polar bear
    the tiger or the crane
    and countless other creatures
    to which we were the bane

    they’ll also never know the stars
    because we stole their chance
    because we’d rather party on
    and live upon advance

    oh what a sad sad species
    we “gods” of planet earth
    we stupid kings of overshoot
    what really are we worth?

    just look around at what you see
    and ask yourself “where now?”
    and if you have an answer
    it better tell you how

    ’cause i can’t see a future
    that is anything but grim
    and even bare survival chances
    often seem so slim

    i hope that future stories
    are told around the fire
    that kids enjoy just living
    and old folk just retire

    i hope we’re not the last of us
    i really really do
    i hope that there’s a future
    for our sons and daughters too

  2. #2 kurumsal kimlik tasarımı
    ankara
    August 26, 2015

    These shots are crazy good

  3. #3 G
    August 26, 2015

    At some point we have to face up to this:

    Overpopulation.

    Regardless of “American lifestyle,” every human needs X liters of water per day, Y calories per day, and Z square feet of space to sleep in, as well as Q amount of sewage to be disposed, and R amount of space in common rights-of-way to enable movement from one place to another. And, density beyond a certain point produces breakdown in public health leading to deadly disease outbreaks.

    The two most important causal factors for lower birth rates are female equality and economic security. Both of these can, should, and must be made non-negotiable demands in all international treaties, trade agreements, and disaster interventions.

  4. #4 Wow
    August 26, 2015

    Actually, unless you’re going to kill people off, birthrate reduction will take several generations to show an effect. China has just such a policy and it’s taken 70 years for it to show results.

    Meanwhile, that elephant in the room is burning fossil fuels. Stopping is doable and will have an effect on how much CO2 is being added as soon as the reductions are done and to the level at which those reductions are done.

    Changing the number of babies being born will have no effect unless you kill the ones currently alive.

  5. #5 Wow
    August 26, 2015

    IOW: a 100% reduction in the number of babies being born will reduce the CO2 output at the rate at which people die off,which is a hell of a lot lower than 100% of the population annually.

    But population means that you, in the first world, where population is already even or on a slight decline, won’t have to change, whereas the third world, who are still rising, even if that rate is falling, will be to blame for not changing.

    THAT is the sole and only reason for this “population scare” being touted.

  6. #6 GregH
    September 3, 2015

    WoW – serious question:

    How can we deal with populations whose leaders (in most cases “the rich”) have determined that growth of wealth means growth of population until the nation’s resource limits are reached? What happens when those impoverished masses see emigration as their only hope? I see this as the root of the refugee problem Australia faces, and to some extent, the refugee problem faced by the EU, even if war is the proximal cause. I know this is kind of simplistic, but there you are.

  7. #7 Wow
    September 3, 2015

    Greg, NONE of that has anything to do with “population growth/size”.

    Currently we have more than enough to feed everyone. INDIA produces more food than they need, including their export goods. Starvation isn’t from food or resource shortage but from a complete failure to send those resources where they need.

    And, no impoverished immigrants coming over and stealing everything not nailed down is as fabricated a tale as any you’d get from the rag media.

    “What do we do about it” has bugger all to do with anything about global overshoot day. And will never be solved by two buggers yakking on an obscure blog infested by a twat of an 8 year old.

  8. #8 freddy
    September 3, 2015

    GregG as well as wow: you both failed to illuminate your very personal opinions with the hypothesis of Earth overshoot day. Even worse, you two failed to match your very personal opinions of the refugee ‘problem’ (why the fuck “problem”??) with the second main hyopthesis that every “problem” today has at least some relationship to the hypothesis of “climate change”.

    I predict that you two will fuckingly fail to relate your very personal fucking opinions to the two hypotheses mentioned, as you are used to logical fallacies and ideological inconsequencies.

  9. #9 Mnestheus
    September 24, 2015

    Wasn’t August 13th colese to the 45th anniversary of John Ehrlich predicting the world would run out of natural gas 25 years ago.?

    Picture , please.

  10. #10 Wow
    September 30, 2015

    No.

  11. #11 Wow
    September 30, 2015

    “Even worse, you two failed to match your very personal opinions of the refugee ‘problem’ (why the fuck “problem”??) ”

    Syria.

  12. #12 Rosemary Graham-Gardner
    Manhattan Beah Ca
    October 15, 2015

    Emnestheus. It is Paul Ehrlich you idiot. He wrote: The Population Bomb in 1968

  13. #13 Craig Thomas
    October 29, 2015

    So what are we doing about unsustainable population growth?

    Where is the agitation for population control in places that have excessive growth and population reduction for places that have insufficient resources for the population already there?

    It’s all very well moaning about resource utilisation, but you need to address the cause: populations that can’t support themselves.

  14. #14 Craig Thomas
    October 29, 2015

    freddy thinks refugees don’t represent a “problem”.
    Lunatic thinking.
    Most conflicts get framed around some sort of ideology, but at their heart they are about resources; food, water, land, cattle, oil, whatever. And competition for those resources arises from population pressures.
    And winners imply losers. Losers suffer, die, and/or are driven off and become another land’s “invaders”
    It’s been happening for tens of thousands of years: invaders from the East move West. The Celts, the Mongols, Germans, Magyars, etc… victims begetting more victims.

    Syria’s population expanded 5-fold in the space of about 50 years, with the predictable implosion we are now seeing.
    Yemen’s population has followed an even more dramatic trajectory: the median age in that part of the world is now under *19*.
    *That* is a problem.

  15. #15 Wow
    October 29, 2015

    “Where is the agitation for population control in places that have excessive growth”

    It’s a far less effective way of controlling CO2 than cutting back on it.

    Unless you’re going to control growth by killing people by the millions.

  16. #16 Wow
    October 29, 2015

    If population density is a problem, then there are names much higher on the list:

    http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST?order=wbapi_data_value_2014+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=desc

    Given most have population controls in place, what do you suggest to stop them becoming a Syria? Culling of the excess population?

  17. #17 freddy
    November 1, 2015

    wowtroll, once and for all, when are you willing to confess under which sock puppet names you constantly cheat and deceive the public? Be honest, troll!

  18. #18 Wow
    November 1, 2015

    Coby, please tell the thread and boris/kai/freddy here who has been posting under sock puppets and pretending he wasn’t.

    And feel free to confirm his accusation is a lie here.

  19. #19 coby
    November 2, 2015

    freddy, you are the one caught using a sockpuppet on this blog. Any further denials or deflections of that will be deleted.

  20. #20 Craig Thomas
    November 9, 2015

    “Wow

    October 29, 2015
    If population density is a problem”

    That would not be a sensible way of looking at it – difference climates and different geographies have different population-carrying capacities.

    Singapore is dense, but has a well-ordered society.
    Yemen is not so dense, and has a disordered society which has now resulted in utter chaos.
    Places like Yemen need to be depopulated one way or another. Leave it to natural forces and the depopulation will be far less kind than, eg, China’s extremely successful planned strategy which has arrested growth and would – if they so chose – in future lead to depopulation.

    A 1-child policy enforced on the entire middle-east and India would be excellent.

  21. #21 Wow
    November 9, 2015

    “That would not be a sensible way of looking at it ”

    Why? Because it doesn’t fit your desired outcome?

    You need food. Food requires land.
    You need a home. Homes require land.
    You need water. Water requires treatment on land.
    A million people in the USA is unpopulated.
    A million people in the Vatican state is crowded.

    Population density is precisely the way to look at it.

    Unless you want to use the unoccupied third world land to grow your food, while they cut their population so you can keep running your car and blaming them for AGW… Then it kinda sucks.

  22. #22 Wow
    November 9, 2015

    “Places like Yemen need to be depopulated one way or another.”

    Woah.

  23. #23 Craig Thomas
    November 12, 2015

    “You need food. Food requires land.

    You need water. Water requires treatment on land.”

    I think you’ve somewhat missed the point – different geographies and climates allow different population-carrying capacities for the very reason that differing amounts of water are available per km2 and food production is similarly variable per km2.

    So population density is not a metric that tells you whether a place is over-populated or not.

    Syria has recently been significantly depopulated – you tell me: do you think a planned depopulation might not have been a whole lot better than sitting back and allowing climate change, civil war, and a take-over by mass-murdering religious fanatics to carry it out?

  24. #24 Wow
    November 12, 2015

    “I think you’ve somewhat missed the point ”

    Nope.

    I think you did.

    Land. Per person. It’s not just a luxury, it’s a necessity. Drink seawater if you like, but you’ll find it unpleasant for a while. And the plants won’t like you much either.

    “So population density is not a metric that tells you whether a place is over-populated or not”

    The total count is far worse.

  25. #25 Wow
    November 12, 2015

    “Syria has recently been significantly depopulated”

    Yeah. So what.

  26. #26 freddy
    November 15, 2015

    wowbrat, again you present your poor education “drink seawater”: drink it yourself, moron and see how you die quickly. You are a catastrophe, as you are not even aware, that before the 1950s the were no temperature records of whole antarctica, therefore a calcaulation of a fucking global temperature was NO GLOBAL TEMPERATURE!!!! Can you give the audience here a hint, when you will be willing to wash your brain with some reasonable insights instead of your deplorable blather. Why the fuck are you so stubborn!!!!!!

  27. #27 freddy
    November 15, 2015

    wowtroll, when are willing to face your next lesson: refugees from Syria are NOT climate change victims! Accept this, understood. You should defeat your ideologies in your parallel universe and face the world as is.

    In addition I want to know from you how many days of climate change tourism you will spend in Paris to get frozen arms and hindlegs to acclaim COP21 amidst your pagan warming acolytes. Confess now!

  28. #28 Wow
    November 15, 2015

    “wowbrat,”

    Booorrrriiiinnnnggggg.

  29. #29 Wow
    November 15, 2015

    “wowtroll, when are willing to face your next lesson:”

    What lesson?

    ” refugees from Syria are NOT climate change victims!”

    Yes they are.

  30. #30 Wow
    November 15, 2015

    So were Mt Fleming used in the climate trend calculation?

    You have avoided that question for weeks now.

  31. #31 Wow
    November 15, 2015

    He freddykaiboristroll, how many days did you spend over in Paris before you started killing people to shut down the COP talks?

  32. #32 freddy
    November 19, 2015

    wowbrat, why the fuck are you fighting against moslems?

  33. #33 freddy
    November 20, 2015

    It is very easy to demonstrate the low level of education and information of 5th row peripheral and totally irrelevant climate warming blatherers like wowbrat etc., as they cannot answer even very simple questions on climate science, e.g.: wowbrat, explain to the audience here, how much the altimetry measurement satellites fall down to earth within 2 weeks.

    I predict that you are totally unable to answer even such a primitive question. Try to save your face, troll.

  34. #34 freddy
    November 20, 2015

    Listen, wowtroll, what disappoints me most about your intellectual posture is that your brain performance level is even lower than that of most teabaggers. Most of the teabaggers know that no correct global temperature can be calculated for the years 1850 to 1900, but YOU don’t.

  35. #35 Wow
    November 20, 2015

    “wowbrat, why the fuck are you fighting against moslems?”

    Freddiekaitrollbot, why are you pretending to be a muslin just so you can bomb people who want to stop AGW from getting worse?

  36. #36 Wow
    November 20, 2015

    “as they cannot answer even very simple questions on climate science, ”

    I did.

    YOU however, are a lying sack of crap and don’t care or know better.

    “Most of the teabaggers ignorantly insist that no correct global temperature can be calculated for the years 1850 to 1900, but YOU don’t.”

    FTFY, dearie.

    You see you teabaggers live in a fantasy world. I live in the real one where you CAN calculate a “correct global temperature”.

    I also know that your claims are bullshit because warming doesn’t require a “correct global temperature” but a consistent measurement of the temperature around the globe that is done as time passes so you can see the CHANGE in global temperatures.

    But you’re a moron and a retard as well as insane, and do not know or care to accept reality.

  37. #37 Wow
    November 20, 2015

    “I predict that you are totally unable to answer even such a primitive question.”

    Wow us with an answer, oh full-of-shit one.

    I predict you cannot.

  38. #38 freddy
    November 22, 2015

    wowtroll, you were given a very simple question: “wowbrat, explain to the audience here, how much the altimetry measurement satellites fall down to earth within 2 weeks”

    and as predicted you were again totally unable to answer that very simple question. You will be given now a second chance to demonstrate your stupidity and I predict, that you will again be far too stupid to find the correct answer. Try it troll, and show the audience what an idiot you are, you lying sack of a teabagger.

  39. #39 Wow
    November 22, 2015

    Get that ballsack out of your mouth, you cretin.

  40. #40 Relayer
    Kentucky
    December 22, 2016

    Wow, people get really rude on this blog. Is that really necessary? Great photos.

  41. #41 Wow
    December 28, 2016

    it’s about as neccesary as that post was, Relayer.