Earth Overshoot Day

August 21, 2010

September 25, 2009


This has nothing to do with giant killer asteroids nearly demolishing the planet. (That’s Near Miss Day, celebrated on March 23, the anniversary of the the day in 1989 that a 1000-foot asteroid passed the spot Earth had been six hours earlier.) No, Earth Overshoot Day is a symbolic measure of humanity’s energy consumption, and it falls on a different day each year.

Put simply, Earth Overshoot Day estimates the amount of days it takes humanity to use a year’s worth of the Earth’s renewable energy resources. Ideally, Earth Overshoot Day would occur on December 31, or better yet, there would be no Earth Overshoot Day, because we would consume less energy in a year than the Earth naturally regenerates, and create less pollution than the planet can reabsorb, but that hasn’t happened since 1986.

“…before that time [1986] the global community consumed resources and produced carbon dioxide at a rate consistent with what the planet could produce and reabsorb. By 1996, however, humanity was using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply, with Earth Overshoot Day falling in November.”

According to Top Scientists, we now use approximately 40% more energy than the Earth is capable of sustaining. That means this year (2009) Earth Overshoot Day falls on September 25.

The good news is that Earth Overshoot Day was September 23 in 2008. So maybe we’re headed it the right direction. Of course, 2008 was also a Leap Year, so don’t go celebrating just yet. And if you do go celebrating, don’t start a tire bonfire.

2010 Update: This year Earth Overshoot Day fell over a month before last year’s. Definitely not a good sign. The good news is, now that we’re past Overshoot Day, we can consume all the energy we want since it won’t count toward next year. Right? At this rate, we’ll be celebrating Overshoot Day in January by the end of the next decade.

2011 Update: The good news: Even as we reach 7 billion people, this year’s Earth Overshoot Day is over a month later than last year’s. Is the world getting more efficient? Time Magazine says no. “Amid Paeans to Energy Efficiency, World is Getting Less Efficient

Global Footprint Network – Earth Overshoot Day

Farakka Long March Day – Bangladesh

May 16

Today is the anniversary of the Farakka Long March in 1976. The march protested the construction of the Farakka dam, aka the Farakka Barrage. The dam is located just 11 miles from the border of Bangladesh, and it diverts up to 200,000 gallons of water per second from the Ganges River that would have flowed to Bangladesh.

“If ever there was a lesson in the unintended effects of damming rivers, the Farakka Barrage is probably it…

“Although the barrage, the longest in the world, was originally intended to divert water from the Ganges into the Hooghly River during the dry season and rescue the Kolkata port 257 km downstream, the government in Dhaka has accused India of using it to turn parts of Bangladesh into a desert, raising salinity, affecting navigation and adversely influencing the environment, agriculture and fisheries. ”

— India: Farakka Barrage – An Environmental Mistake. Muhammad Javed Iqbal

In India, the dam has not only contributed to the problem it was intended to fix (the silt build-up in Kolkata harbor), it may even cause bigger problems, such as the merging of two of the Ganges’ major tributaries.

“Critics say this is a product of the so-called “engineers’ racket,” a term coined by the Indian geographer Sunil K Munshi, to describe corruption resulting from greedy civil contractors working together with irresponsible state and federal governments. And it appears that now India will seek to undo the damage with a mammoth US120 billion plan to interlink its rivers, which originate in the Himalaya Mountains, with 30 interlinked canal systems that would deliver water to so-called Peninsular India.” (Iqbal)

Back in 1976, to protest the construction of the dam, populist leader Moulana Bhasani led a mass demonstration and march of thousands of Bangladeshis across approximately 100 kilometers. Since the 1970s, the two countries have engaged in talks attempting to come to a solution regarding the sharing of water.

Like the Ganges, the observance of Farakka Long March Day each year on May 16 tends to ebb and flow with the passing of time. On the anniversary of the march in 2005, a half million people gathered to protest the Farakka Barrage and the proposed Indian River Interlink Project.

The damage caused by the dam is just one more problem Bangladesh has to worry about.

With over 160 million people in a space the size of Iowa (Iowa’s population by the way is 3 million), Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Contrary to news reports, Bangladesh is not an environmental disaster waiting to happen… It’s already happening. Bangladesh, the canary in a coal mine for the rest of the world, is “set to disappear under the waves by the end of the century” —

However, according to Professor Ainun Nishat…

“Although everyone says that 17% of the country will be under water, it is not sea level rise that we fear but the increase of salinity.”

Bangladesh is Ready With a Climate Change Strategy

Rising sea levels means deep wells in low-lying communities will become effected with salt water, effecting both agriculture and drinkability.

Many researchers believe that climate change may also increase the frequency of tropical cyclones, which routinely strike the Bangladesh coast. The deadliest of these—in fact the deadliest cyclone in recorded history—was the Bhola Cyclone of November 1970, which killed over half a million people.

Farakka Day Today

Farakka, a Lost Battle for Bangladesh?

Farakka Barrage: Cause for Concern

Earth Day

April 22

“It’s April 21st
Everybody knows today is Earth Day…
Happy Birthday
To whoever’s being born.”

Well, Dramarama was just one day off.

Today, April 22, is the unofficial birthday of Earth. She won’t say exactly how old she is this year, but rumor has it, it would take about 4.5 billion candles to light her cake. (Although flattering Creationists insist she doesn’t look a day over 6,014.)

Earth Day as we know it–as celebrated on April 22–began in 1970. It was a grass-roots campaign, suggested by the unfortunately-named Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), a senator and former governor from the state of Wisconsin, who had been instrumental in requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose medicinal side-effects. In 1963, he changed his focus to environmental issues and organized a “Conservation Tour” under President Kennedy. With Kennedy’s assassination later that year, the national agenda changed. By the end of the decade the idea of environmentalism wasn’t even a blip on the political radar in Washington, yet Nelson found that students on college campuses were focusing on the environment with new intensity.

The timing was ripe for a holiday without borders to raise awareness of the environment. 20 million participated in the first Earth Day. Nelson later admitted neither he nor anyone in D.C. could have organized that many people. It was a true grass-roots holiday. “That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day,” he said, “It organized itself.”

Earth Day reminds us of the one thing we all have in common, no matter our country, language, religion or race. We all (okay, all but 483 of us, to be exact) have spent every day of our lives on this planet.

The furthest any of us have ever gotten from Earth–without exception—is 401,056 kilometers. That record belongs to the three astronauts of Apollo 13, the fated craft that splashed down to Earth on April 17, 1970—just 5 days before the first Earth Day—as if to emphasize our own fragility and dependence on our home base. Note, we haven’t gone one inch further in 40 years.


May, 1961. To an address Kennedy made to a joint session of Congress, and to the nation, that put forth a previously unimaginable initiative:

“…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

At the time, landing on the moon–let alone bringing someone back–was the stuff of science-fiction. The U.S. space program, Kennedy even admitted, was lagging behind the Soviets, and they weren’t about to declare such an outlandish dream.

But on July 21, 1969, the feat was accomplished. With 5 months to spare, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on a celestial sphere other than Earth, the planet on which every other living organism we know of has lived and died.


January 2003.

In his State of the Union, President Bush sets forth another initiative, with a new deadline:

“A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car–producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free.”

Environmentalists had waited a long time to hear something, anything in this direction. Not that hydrogen is the end-all earth-loving fuel of the future that politicians think it is, but still, it’s progress, right?

Take another look at the differences between the addresses:

Kennedy proposed a deadline of 8 and a half years to do what was widely believed to be impossible, what was far beyond our technical, practical, financial, and scientific ability. To go to the moon and back.

Bush, forty years later, called for a timeline of roughly twice Kennedy’s—16 years (“the first car driven by a child born today”)—to implement the use of technology we already have today.

We assume that technology moves much faster in today’s world than it did forty or fifty years ago, but it depends on which direction you’re looking. Our computers are faster, our radios smaller, but when it comes to using our technology to save our planet, we are nowhere near harnessing the momentum and energy of the technological dreams to reach the moon in the 1960s.

The missing element?

One thing the 2003 speech lacked, that Kennedy understood, was the necessary element of sacrifice. He understood that people working together toward a common goal will make that sacrifice. Today it’s very unpopular for a politician today to tell us to change our lifestyle–I mean, unless you’re gay–but if you’re not gay, they can’t tell you to change. And they especially can’t tell you to adapt your way of living to (prepare yourself):


The idea is almost considered unAmerican. Just by using the two words together in a single sentence this post is already on a CIA watchlist.

But it’s also a real solution, that, though unuttered by most politicians, is a real action that anyone can take that can help, starting today, not 16 years from now.

You don’t hear the rest of Kennedy’s 1961 speech these days—the not-so-sexy part. He’s talking about the space race, but he could just as easily be talking about the sacrifice necessary in the 21st century mission to protect and sustain life on our own planet Earth:

I believe we should go to the Moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.

Or in the equally exciting adventure of Earth.


Happy Birthday.

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Lights Out! Tonight’s Earth Hour

March 26, 2011


Lights out, aha,
blast blast blast
I know it’s wrong
to be dancing with no lights on…
Dancing in the dark
to the radio of love…

— Peter Wolf, Lights Out

Break out those candles. Close the lights (as my grandmother used to say).

Tonight, March 27th, at 8:30 local time is Earth Hour. A ritual that began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia spread across the globe in 2008. For one hour cities around the world turned off the lights, as even more will do tonight:

Earth Hour 2009

In terms of energy saved, Earth Hour may not solve global warming, but it does acknowledge and spread awareness of the problem of climate change.

Shine on, love.