In aggregate, humanity has been living on credit since 2 August 2017. This means we are depleting earthly resources available to future generations of humans and everything else living on the planet. The Global Footprint Network has named this day Earth Overshoot Day.
A report by Swedish researchers published last month, which recommends the four best ways to reduce human impact on the earth, lists having fewer children, living car-free, avoiding flying and eating a plant-based diet as the best ways to save the planet. Having fewer children has by far the largest impact. One fewer child can cut 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent emissions per year in the developed world. The next most impactful action, living car-free cuts annual emissions by a relatively meagre 2.4 tCO2e per year, 4% of the amount associated with one less child.
If we were to roll the clock back to find a sustainable population at the current average resource burn rate we would need to go back to around 1980 when there were 4.4 million humans.
According to the Global Footprint Network’s calculations, the last time we lived sustainably was in 1970. The population then was 3.7 billion. The gap between 1980’s population of 4.4 million and the 1970 population of 3.7 shows that average per capita resource consumption has declined, however not enough to keep up with population growth.
According to WWF, Swiss residents fly twice as often as their neighbours, making them world leaders.
While Swiss residents have one of the worst records when it comes to air travel emissions, with a fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman, Switzerland is doing its bit when it comes to having fewer children. Fertility rates vary widely across the world. Niger, the highest, has a fertility rate of 7.63 children per woman compared to the lowest, Taiwan, with 1.07.
Low fertility rates and the decline in population that comes with them is not without its challenges. A big one is how to pay for retirement as the number of workers declines relative to the number of retirees.
Perhaps one day postponing retirement will be viewed as the best way to contribute to saving the planet.