In the Red: World Surpasses Annual Natural Resource Budget

picwaterLast week, on August 19, the planet reached Earth Overshoot Day. Also known as Ecological Debt Day, the date marks the point at which “humanity has used up its natural resource budget for the year”, including land, trees, and food. In other words, “our use of resources has started to exceed the Earth’s ability to regenerate”.

The Global Footprint Network, a California-based non-profit, calculates Earth Overshoot Day annually. The Network divides the “world’s biocapacity – the amount of natural resources generated by the planet that year – by humanity’s natural consumption of Earth’s resources”. It factors in approximately 6,000 data points for 230 countries, territories, and regions. It then multiplies the total by the number of days in a year. According to the Network, the result is accurate within 15%.

The arrival of Earth Overshoot Day on August 19 is certainly worrisome. As noted in the Daily Mail, “Earth is in overdraft just EIGHT months into the year”. But even more alarming is the shift in the Earth Overshoot Day over time. In 1961, “humans used only around 3/4 of the Earth’s capacity for generating food, timber, fish and absorbing greenhouse gases, with most countries having more resources than they consumed”. Since then, however, the earth overshoot day has crept up earlier each year. In 1967, the US began consuming more than its natural budget. By the 1970s, “enough countries had moved from ecological creditor to ecological debtor status that the earth as a whole was overshooting its sustainable supply of critical resources”. This upward creep has accelerated in recent years. In 2000, the Earth Overshoot Day was November 1. In 2009, it was September 25.

According to Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network, the Global overshoot is becoming “a defining challenge of the 21st century”. Already, in 2014, it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable resources needed to support current human consumption. By mid-century, however, “moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the biocapacity of 3 planets”. The resulting “deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere” will come with enormous human and economic costs. Countries with resource deficits and low incomes are particularly vulnerable, but high-income countries will also pay a price.

In response, the Global Footprint Network urges countries to implement long-term solutions before “such dependencies…turn into a significant economic stress”. In the words of Wackernagel, “Government can always print more money, but it can’t print more planet. Ecological overshoot should lead the political agenda”. Already, Global Footprint has inspired several countries to take action. The Philippines is implementing national land-use planning, Morocco is investing in sustainable agriculture systems, and the UAE is installing high-efficiency lighting. Individuals can also act. Using the organization’s personal calculator, they can pinpoint their own overshoot day, and reduce their consumption accordingly.

To learn more, please contact the Global Footprint Network, the Environmental Defense Fund, or our partners, the Ocean River Instituteand Solar Sonoma County.

Flickr photo credit: Bryan Wysoglad 


Op4G’s $500 Winner: Second Harvest Food Bank

second harvestDespite the wealth of the United States, hunger remains a real and growing problem. In fact, as of 2014, approximately 1 in 6 (or 50 million Americans) are food insecure. Thus, Op4G is pleased to announce that our $500 sweepstakes winner for July is Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Founded in 1974, Second Harvest provides nutritious food to more than a quarter million low income people every month. In fiscal year 2013, this food totaled more than 52 million pounds! The non-profit provides the food through an innovative direct service program, as well as through 770 food distribution sites. It also encourages healthy food choices by promoting federal nutrition programs.

Second Harvest estimates that the $500 sweepstakes winnings will provide 1,000 meals for families in their community. It also raises Op4G’s total donations to Second Harvest to over $11,280! For such support, Second Harvest thanks Op4G and all the members who complete surveys on their behalf.

Flickr photo credit: Lauren Tucker


Waste Not, Want Not: Solving the Global Food Crisis

pic3Ever find yourself throwing out last week’s groceries, or only finishing half your meal? You are not alone. According to the latest research from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), roughly 1/3 of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes of food or 57% of all the calories harvested each year.

The magnitude and cause of the problem vary by region. In the developing world, per capita food waste equates to 6 – 11 kg/year. Most of this waste occurs at the start of the supply chain due to inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation, and poor infrastructure (e.g. a lack of refrigerating facilities). In the developed world, however, per capita waste equates to a shocking 95 – 115 kg/year. Waste occurs primarily at the end of the supply chain, as supermarkets “often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables…because they do not meet exacting marketing standards”. Consumers also purchase “excessive quantities” of perishable foods and dispose of food early due to “confusing” food labels.

The human impact of such waste is considerable. After all, about 1 billion people globally (or 1 in 7) continue to suffer from malnutrition or starvation. According to the Feeding 5000 Campaign, the vast quantity of wasted food “would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them”.

But “wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition”. It also mean losing “precious resources, including land, water and energy”. In fact, producing wasted food requires 28% of global farmland – approximately the size of Mexico. It uses enough freshwater to meet the domestic needs of 9 billion people (200L each/day). Furthermore, since each calorie of food takes an average of 7 – 10 calories to produce, it consumes a significant portion of the global energy budget. This, in turn, generates 6-10% of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to “to unnecessary global warming”.

To compound the problem, the United Nations projects that the global population will reach 9.5 billion by 2075 (based on mid-range forecasts). This represents over 2 billion more mouths to feed. Furthermore, “substantial changes are anticipated in the wealth, calorific intake, and dietary preferences of people in developing countries”. Hence, the demand for food—particularly resource intensive food like meat—is expected to increase.

Fortunately, awareness of global food waste is also growing and key players are starting to act. The United Nations, for example, has launched the Think.Eat.Save program, which works to galvanize global action and exchange ideas. Farmers are donating “edible but imperfect-looking” crops to local food charities, such as City Harvest. Food processors are finding innovative ways to salvage previously rejected foods, such as “making baby carrots out of carrots too bent to meet retail standards”. And grocery stores like Waitrose and Sainsbury are cutting the prices of expiring goods, donating leftovers to charities, and sending remaining food waste to bio-plants for electricity generation.

Such efforts offer real hope of solving the global food problem. In fact, the United Nations reports that “cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half by 2050 would close 20% of the (expected) food gap.”

To learn more about the food waste problem, please click here. To help reduce hunger, please donate to one of our partner food banks: Friends of Saint Joseph’s Food Pantry, Operation: Sack Lunch, the Oregon Food Bank, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

Flickr photo credit: Kabsic Park