Earth Overshoot Day

A sunset over the desert with cracked earth.

Well, here we are, smack-dab into the middle of 2021 and the heat has moved in to play havoc with our lives. According to cable news, the western part of our country (California, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona) are brutally dry with little relief expected.

I have family and friends living in those areas and it concerns me that their life may become a lot more difficult with no solution in sight. A news reporter was in a boat on Lake Mead (near Las Vegas) and the water level was dramatically below the waterline that’s etched in the cliffs surrounding the lake. They began a major drilling operation in 2012 called the “Third Strawâ€. It draws water for Las Vegas from the bottom, like a drain in a bathtub. The town gets 90% of its water from the lake. They completed it in 2015 and you can read about it here.

We all know that water ranks at the top of the list for survival, especially if you’re living in a dry area. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the second most popular drink after water is tea. My pick would have been coffee, but it seems many people in other parts of our world prefer tea.

I remember flying from Los Angeles a few years back and looking out the window at the desert below, stretching for what seemed like hours of our flight. As the plane sped on, I spotted a single house out in the middle of nowhere, with no other structure in sight for a hundred miles in any direction. I pondered on what would possess anyone to want to live in such an isolated place.

All of us have lived like hermits the past 15 months because of Covid-19, and the thing we missed the most was human contact. That family in the middle of the desert undoubtedly does not share that trait. Where do they get their water? Of course, we were flying too high for me to see if possibly they had a well, but how far down do you drill for water in the middle of the desert? At our home in Virginia, we get 50 inches of rain on average each year and we drilled 145 feet to get drinkable water. In the middle of the desert, you may need to go 400 feet or more.

My hunch is that family had an aboveground tank that was filled by a water tanker on its way to somewhere else. Somehow, this family has logistically figured out how to survive in such a desolate place. That gives me confidence that the areas of our country, afflicted with high concentrations of drought, will figure out what to do. 

In 1985 I lived in a rural area not too far from where I live now, and our water supply involved two 500-foot wells. One well furnished the water for our heating/air conditioning and drinking water. The other was the return line that sent the water back to its source. I came home from work one day and discovered that the water level had dropped below the pump level, and we had no drinking water, nor heat in the house. 

In a few days we resolved the problem by dropping the pump down from 145 to about the 175-foot level. I wanted to go down to 200 feet, but the well guy said I would need a more powerful pump, so I decided on a wait and see approach to the problem. Once every month, I would walk out to the pump station and measure the water level. My research revealed that a fairly large city about 25miles away had a 30-year lease on a pumping station nearby and was pumping over a million gallons weekly and there was nothing we could do to stop them. 

It did not take me long to figure out that I had a long-term problem. Within a few years I moved (for other reasons), and that problem went away. I drive over occasionally to see how the house has changed since I left in 1991. It’s still there and the neighborhood seems to thrive. I suspect they have water piped in from a nearby town. 

So, I have lived where the water supply was tenuous and cause for concern. My good friend Cindy lives in Las Vegas, and we have family in LA and the surrounding area, and we are concerned for their welfare. Most of the Climatologist believe things will get worse unless we take climate change seriously. I believe at some point we will, but I hope it’s not before it’s too late to reverse the damage we have inflicted. I am aware there are people that doubt we are causing the radical changes in our weather, but somehow they need to see that we are affecting our environment in some serious ways.

There were 2.5 billion people on this planet in 1951 (I was 10) and in 2020 there were 7.9 billion. That’s a 216% increase in less than 70 years. If that trend continues, by 2090 there will be approximately 25 billion human beings doing exactly the same things we’re doing now, i.e., continuing to consume everything this wonderful planet offers.

There is something called “Earth Overshoot Day†that marks the date when humanity’s demand for resources in a year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. In 2021 that date falls on July 29th. So, on that date we use resources that should be reserved for future generations. We expect our carbon footprint to increase 6.6% in 2021 and that factors in the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It doesn’t look good for future generations folks. So, what can we do to help save our environment? I suggest we get serious about recycling as much as possible and eliminating any unnecessary plastic, i.e., bags, bubble wrap, etc. We need to stop the deforestation of the Amazon Forest and find alternatives that preserve our woodlands. Estimates are that by 2050 nearly 80% of the world’s population will live in cities. That will have an enormous impact on our natural resources. Planning our cities to be efficient users of energy is critical to our survival on a long- term basis. 

For my part in this effort, I plan on using less water, electricity, and gasoline, throw away less food, and try to reduce my personal carbon footprint. I don’t plan on living a spartan life, but I do plan on being a lot less wasteful. 

I believe that if we all make an honest effort, we can have a powerful impact on the survival of our planet. Give it some thought and figure out what you can do to see that future generations enjoy at least a modicum of what we have now. Anne Frank said it so eloquently, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.†Amen.

As a side note, I have a missive titled, “Saving Our Planetâ€, written in July 2020. If you have a few minutes, read that as well.