Blog 6 – Overexploiting Earth

After ending last blog on Eath Overshoot Day, it seemed that that was a good topic to blog about next. And the route matched the topic too. On day 33 I rode with some fellow cyclists and had a drink after. Part of the conversation was about climate change and overconsumption. They go hand in hand, but are separate problems with a similar drastic solution: stop capitalism, change the economic environment and stop overconsumption. We as humans always want more, setting the norm higher and higher. In the meantime we over exploit the only earth we’ve got. And it leaves plenty of traces on route…

New built-up area with wider roads

Gjernes to Stave

Day 33 – 81 km to Arendal – Started with light rain, which continued through most of the day. First took the oldest (wooden) traffic ferry in Norway. Met some other cyclists. Perfect hills to go fast on and showed beautiful forests and lakes. After meeting the cyclists again, cycled together to Arendal and had a drink.

Day 34 – 0 km – Perfect mix of giving my legs a rest and avoiding getting wet by staying in my tent while it was raining most of the day.

Day 35 – 85 km to Kristiansand – Followed part of the Vestlandske Hovedvei. Sometimes steep gravel roads through forests with some waterfalls and many birds. After Lillesand mainly close to bigger roads that definitely weren’t that big when my map was produced (i.e 2007).

Day 36 – 72 km to Mandal – Mostly rode close to big roads, that (again) weren’t that big when the map was made. My heart really ached to see the destruction to nature. But it leapt when I saw a viper! Eventually turned to rolling hills along the seaside once more.

Day 37 – 47 km to Lyngdal – Starting with a steep gravel road, made slower by the many birds. Took it slow this day, even had a nap under the trees next to the sea. Ending with the first proper climb with hairpin turns. Which, I admit, I just couldn’t cycle up… Down was amazing of course! But some dRT rivers need to learn how to behave around cyclists…

Day 38 – 46 km to Stave – A late start, but I knew it would be a short day. Starting of with a steep climb and a nice descent. The the landscape turned very flat, as if I were back in Denmark.

Vestlandske Hovedvei

Norway has shown more of its natural beauty, even in the rain. The fjords, lakes, forests, harbour villages and random cabins create an amazing scenery through which I rode. True, I’m not cycling when it’s very much going uphill, but this also allows me watch birds more often, as well as take more photos. Where Denmark gave me a Cirl Bunting as a new species for me, Norway gave me a Golden Eagle. Yes, new for me. At least consciously new. I also think a lot when I cycle. About my research, my life, but also the state of the world. And that is also what this blog is for. So let’s continue with the topic.

What I’ve cycled so far (green is the latest leg)

Earth Overshoot Day

When I wrote last blog, it was Earth Overshoot Day. This day is the day on which we have used up all resources available for this year. What we use from this day onwards is basically a debt to the world, a debt for the future. This day is calculated by the ecological footprint of citizens. What area of the earth is needed to encompass all our needs for living (and taking up our carbon emission) if everyone on earth (7.7 billion and counting) lived that way. If we need an entire world, that would still mean that everything on earth is for mankind. Nature has no place in it.

Nature being nature

The footprint as well as the overshoot day may differ highly between countries. I was a little surprised to see the ranking of the countries I’ve been cycling through. The figure below shows what the date of Earth Overshoot Day would be when everyone would live the lifestyle of that country. And although the Scandinavian countries are rather known for their CO2 neutrality or at least their aim, they have an earlier overshoot day than the other countries on my route. (Ignoring Belgium for the moment, because they are right between Sweden and Norway) It is staggering to think that on the route I’m taking, we live like we have three to four planets we can exploit. So, how do we overexploit the one we do have? And what should be done differently?

Exploiting resources

The most well known resources we are exploiting, are resources for energy. Stocks of oil and gas are being burned up, creating an increased greenhouse effect. But the reason why oil and gas companies are interested in renewable energy and reducing the use of fossil fuels, is because the stocks of oil and gas and other fossil fuels such as coal are limited. In 2013 it was predicted that the reserves of oil will be finished by 2052. After switching to gas, that would be gone in another eight years. The limiting amount of fossil reserves is also why many companies are interested in the fields under the north pole ice cap, now that it is melting at non-preceeded rates. I am truly happy that Canada now created a new nature reserve in the polar area, which also makes it forbidden to drill there.

Fossil fuels are not the only resources we exploit which are only very slowly renewed, if they are renewed at all. Minerals are mined to create, for instance, batteries for all our electronics and also our so-called renewable energy. Not only are the working conditions in mines generally terrible, mining industries demolish vast areas of nature, polluting the surroundings with contaminants in the run-off water. And minerals are not the only bedrock resources we mine for. I cycled past quite some excavation sites. These sites are simply excavated for the use of rocks or sand in other areas. And have you ever questioned where metal products come from? Most often, again, from bedrock.

Excavation for sand/stone (for the new built highway)

There are also resources that do renew themselves. Trees can regrow and crops can grow yearly. Yet we overexploit those renewable resources too. If we use more in one year, than we can regrow in one year, we create a debt. We over exploit natural renewable resources. Imagine you wardrobe for example. It’s made of wood. Say for one wardrobe you need a third of a tree. One tree takes at least 60 years to grow. Do you really wait 20 years to buy a new wardrobe?

Clear-cut for wood

Surface area

In the calculation of your ecological footprint, the surface area needed for everything you do is also calculated. Mining resources and regrowing resources as discussed above take up space. The more you use, the more surface area you are using. This is what creates a larger ecological footprint. But it includes more. Take for instance the area of your house and garden. If everyone on earth would live ground floor with the average living space of a Dutch citizen (65 m2, and that doesn’t include a garden), 3.4% of the total land surface is already required. And that is just living area. Here in Norway it seems that everyone has a holiday cabin too, with a garden. You can argue of course that many people don’t have all of their living area on ground floor or even live in flats. True, but this is only one part of your ecological footprint, without having done anything yet, like eating or buying things. And it is not just your house and garden that take up space, the infrastructures you use do to.

Forest, agricultural land and freshwater: all resources

The food we eat has to be grown somewhere and that takes space. For an average Dutch person, 11 m2 is needed per day. That makes 4015 m2 per year. If everyone would eat like this, you would need 20.9% of the earth land surface. But your diet does make a difference. Eating vegetarian already cuts down 4 m2 per day. Hooray! Unfortunately the Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving didn’t give details on a vegan diet. But if you think both are somewhat extreme for you, cutting out meat twice a day reduces you footprint with 1.1 m2 per day.

Veggie dinner with a drill rig (once for BP) as view

In the footprint calculation, it also calculates what the surface area of forest should be to take up the carbon we emit by fossil fuels. If you want to know more about the footprint calculation, or calculate your footprint go to http://www.footprintnetwork.org. But there are more tests you can find online. I end up using less than two earths (if everyone lived like me), so I too have a lot too improve. Living with my tent and bike, generating my own electricity, eating mostly locally grown veggies food, but also taking 1 plane and ferries leave me with only half a planet!

What’s next?

How do we improve is the next question. We should stay within the earths boundaries of what is available. I would argue for the sake of nature, we should stay way below these boundaries. And these boundaries are basically the largest flaw in the economy. Economy takes a lot of their rules from ecology. But one of the simplest rules is missing. There is a limit to growth. Yes, we can recycle. Yes, we can change our diet. Yes, we can switch to “renewable energy”. But most importantly, we need to consume less. The current economic structure is all about making profit, making citizens consume more. This form of capitalism is no longer compatible with sustainable life on earth.

After 69 years still in working order

I’ve been on the road now for more than five weeks. I’ve been wearing the same clothes, living out of basically four panniers. Besides a book, I have all the materialistic needs to be happy. Maybe even too much, because the tablet is additional, and I cling too much to my phone. But I try my best. And when I am back, I will try even harder to reduce my footprint. Think not twice, but thrice before buying something. And I hope many others will, like me, reconsider they materialistic needs and consume less. You, or at least I, really don’t need that much to live a happy life.

All I need

That’s it for now. I will throw in some intermezzo blogs, for some more details on my trip and what I am carrying. Don’t forget I’m posting quite some phone pictures on Facebook and Instagram, if you want more visual updates. The themed blogs will keep coming regularly too. Anyone suggestions for one of the next blog topics?

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