One could easily think that the bad news and the warnings with which we are flooded daily is grossly exaggerated. However, it is a fact of life that many of our fellow citizens (and let’s be honest: often we ourselves as well) will only feel really concerned about the state of the planet when the ceiling is coming down on us. When not pushed by calamities, we need strong figures and hard facts to convince us about the necessity of this or that action – especially when this action pulls us out of the lazy, cheap zone of comfort we have created around us. The average human behaviour has already pushed us beyond safe boundaries for this planet, but we want hard evidence before we start even thinking about changing our easy-going behaviour. Well, there is hard evidence, and strong figures, each year again, but too small is the number of people that know about it and even smaller the number that want to take it in account in day-to-day life.
Imagine that you cultivate a neat garden where you grow some vegetables, some fruits and herbs. You will need a certain amount of sunshine, a fertile soil, some water at regular times. You’re not a helicopter, so you need some space for walking between the beds, and a place to range your tools. All these elements are essential and part of the set-up.
One day, you discover that some people you know are enthusiastic about the stuff you grow and are willing to pay good money for it. That’s okay as long as there is abundance and as long as they don’t want strawberries at Christmas. Certainly, the money is welcome; more money would be even more welcome and you start looking for possibilities to increase the yield of your neat little garden. After a while, this is not longer possible with natural methods and there come the synthetic fertilisers, straw shorteners, pesticides and genetic manipulation. Later you start thinking about having artificial light at night, so as to have two – or more – growth cycles. And also in come the strawberries at Christmas…
Unfortunately you don’t perceive that you are exhausting the naturally given boundaries and the restoration capacity of your soil. For a while you can force that poor soil with even more synthetic fertiliser, more chemicals and more shrewd genetic manipulation. But there comes a moment when that neat little garden of yore is turning into a desert. Well – you can buy another neat little garden with your neighbour, and start all over. This time you begin at once with the synthetic fertiliser, the chemicals and the genetic manipulation. Your yield is fabulous, but much quicker than the first time you end up with another desert. Pooh, there’s another neighbour with another neat little garden that you can buy with the money you earned… After some years you’ve turned a large part of the village into a desert, but that doesn’t matter: there’s another village nearby. And you’ve become very wealthy indeed.
Blow up this story to give it a world-encompassing size and you have a realistic image of the actual planetary situation.
That situation is very well documented by the yearly Overshoot Day. It is that day in the year that the resources which the planet can regenerate in one year’s time, and which should suffice for one year of planetary life and consumption without going out of balance, are already fully consumed indeed. It once was so that this day was December 31st, as can be expected, but that moment is long gone: since 1974 to be precise. In 2016, Overshoot Day fell on August 8th, meaning that from early August we began to use more from nature than our planet can renew in a whole year of 12 months. Each year Overshoot Day is coming earlier. We are now close to the point on which we reach the yearly deficit in six month’s time: early July.
Another (complementary) way of measuring the impact of a region or country on the environment is the so-called Ecological Footprint. Any region or country should consume not more energy and resources than the surface of its territory can generate.
Italy is consuming 4,6 times the equivalent of its surface. All countries together are actually consuming the capacity of 1,6 planet.
So the bad news and warnings are surely not grossly exaggerated.
Is there a necessity to panic? Yes – and no. It certainly is late, very late to change things, but it can still be done when a large number of citizens would consequently adhere to sustainable consumption. Reading the labels and questioning the producers and distributors before buying. The sustainable products are there, the sustainable consumption is still missing.