Overshoot (population)

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In environmental science, the concept of overshoot means demand in excess of regeneration. It can apply to animal populations and people. Environmental science studies to what extent human populations through their resource consumption have risen above the sustainable use of resources. For people, "overshoot" is that portion of their demand or ecological footprint which must be eliminated to be sustainable.[1][2] Excessive demand leading to overshoot is driven by both consumption and population.[3]

A decline in population as a consequence of overshoot has been termed 'collapse'. The trajectory undergone by such a population has been called 'overshoot-and-collapse'. A collapse, as much as overshoot, can be the result of different conditions, a particular but not synonymous case of collapse is the Malthusian catastrophe.[citation needed]

Overshoot can occur due to lag effects. Reproduction rates may remain high relative to the death rate.[4] Entire ecosystems may be severely affected and sometimes reduced to less-complex states due to prolonged overshoot.[5] The eradication of disease can trigger overshoot when a population suddenly exceeds the land's carrying capacity. An example of this occurred on the Horn of Africa when smallpox was eliminated. A region that had supported around 1 million pastoralists for centuries was suddenly expected to support 14 million people. The result was overgrazing, which led to soil erosion.[6]

Human overshoot[edit]

The 1972 book The Limits to Growth discussed the limits to growth of society as a whole. This book included a computer-based model which predicted that the Earth would reach a carrying capacity of ten to fourteen billion people after some two hundred years, after which the human population would collapse.[7] The model was based on five variables: "population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources".[8]:25 This simulation modelled human populations after the overshoot and collapse seen in yeast cells in a petri dish. It was highly controversial and generally dismissed by economists.[9]

William R. Catton, Jr., a sociologist, wrote about relationships between human societies and their environment, as well as his beliefs that there were too many people and more needed to die, in his 1980 book Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. He wrote that humanity would overshoot Earth's carrying capacity, due to both overpopulation and overconsumption.[10][11][12]

The Global Footprint Network purports to be able to measure how much the human economy demands against what the Earth can renew.[13][14] The Optimum Population Trust (now called Population Matters) has listed what they believe is the overshoot (overpopulation) of a number of countries, based on the above.[15]

A widely discussed[16] study published in January 2021 in Frontiers in Conservation Science, emphasizes the significance of overshoot stating that "simultaneous with population growth, humanity's consumption as a fraction of Earth's regenerative capacity has grown from ~ 73% in 1960 to 170% in 2016, with substantially greater per-person consumption in countries with highest income."[17] These numbers are based on recent Ecological Footprint studies.[18] The Frontiers in Conservation Science publication explains that "[t]his massive ecological overshoot is largely enabled by the increasing use of fossil fuels. These convenient fuels have allowed us to decouple human demand from biological regeneration: 85% of commercial energy, 65% of fibers, and most plastics are now produced from fossil fuels."[17]

As a possible cause for societal collapse, overshoot has been scholarly discussed, but has not been found having been the cause for historic cases of collapse.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Global Footprint Network. (2010). The Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010
  2. ^ Schreef, Nathan Surendran (2014-12-01). "Humans in ecological overshoot: Collapse now to avoid a larger catastrophe". The Seneca Effect. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  3. ^ "Media Backgrounder; Earth Overshoot Day; 6. Population and Consumption". Earth Overshoot Day. Global Footprint Network. 2021. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  4. ^ Schmitz, Oswald J. (2013). Ecology and Ecosystem Conservation. Island Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-1597265980. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  5. ^ Howes, Michael (2011). "Development and Ethical Sustainability". In Newman, Julie (ed.). Green Ethics and Philosophy: An A-to-Z Guide Volume 8 of The SAGE Reference Series on Green Society: Toward a Sustainable Future-Series Editor: Paul Robbins. SAGE Publications. p. 114. ISBN 978-1452266220. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  6. ^ Debora MacKenzie (10 October 2011). "Low-key projects keep Horn of Africa famine at bay". NewScientist. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  7. ^ Meadows, Donella; Jørgen Randers; Dennis Meadows (2004). Limits to growth: The 30-year update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company. p. 337. ISBN 1-931498-51-2.
  8. ^ Meadows, Donella H; Meadows, Dennis L; Randers, Jørgen; Behrens III, William W (1972). The Limits to Growth; A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books. ISBN 0876631650. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  9. ^ Sharpe, M.E. (2015). Economic Abundance: An Introduction. M.E. Sharpe. p. 67. ISBN 978-0765628084. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  10. ^ William R. Catton, Jr. (1980). Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252008184.
  11. ^ Ryerson, W. F. (2010), "Population, The Multiplier of Everything Else", in McKibben, D. (ed.), The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century Sustainability Crisis, Watershed Media, ISBN 978-0-9709500-6-2
  12. ^ Brown, L. R. (2011). World on the Edge. Earth Policy Institute. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-08029-2.
  13. ^ Mathis Wackernagel, Niels B. Schulz, Diana Deumling, Alejandro Callejas Linares, Martin Jenkins, Valerie Kapos, Chad Monfreda, Jonathan Loh, Norman Myers Richard Norgaard and Jørgen Rander (May 16, 2002). Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  14. ^ Wackernagel, Mathis; Lin, David; Evans, Mikel; Hanscom, Laurel; Raven, Peter (2019). "Defying the Footprint Oracle: Implications of Country Resource Trends". Sustainability. 11 (7): 2164. doi:10.3390/su11072164.
  15. ^ "New index highlights most overpopulated countries". populationmatters.org. Optimum Population Trust. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  16. ^ "Loop | Publication Impact | Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future".
  17. ^ a b Bradshaw, Corey J. A.; Ehrlich, Paul R.; Beattie, Andrew; Ceballos, Gerardo; Crist, Eileen; Diamond, Joan; Dirzo, Rodolfo; Ehrlich, Anne H.; Harte, John; Harte, Mary Ellen; Pyke, Graham; Raven, Peter H.; Ripple, William J.; Saltré, Frédérik; Turnbull, Christine; Wackernagel, Mathis; Blumstein, Daniel T. (2021). "Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future". Frontiers in Conservation Science. 1. doi:10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419.
  18. ^ Lin, D; Hanscom, L; Murthy, A; Galli, A; Evans, M; Neill, E; Mancini, MS; Martindill, J; Medouar, F-Z; Huang, S; Wackernagel, M. (2018). "Ecological Footprint Accounting for Countries: Updates and Results of the National Footprint Accounts, 2012–2018". Resources. 7(3): 58. http://doi.org/10.3390/resources7030058
  19. ^ Joseph A. Tainter (2006). "Archaeology of Overshoot and Collapse". Annual Review of Anthropology. 35: 59–74. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.35.081705.123136.

Further reading[edit]