04 Aug 2017 20:06 IST

The Once-ler fable and the Earth Overshoot Day

This year, we consumed our share of resources that the Earth can generate in a year, by August 2

The night before the Earth Overshoot Day, that fell this year on August 2, I was reading my five-year-old the story of Once-ler during bedtime. Once-ler is a character in The Lorax, a children’s book by Dr. Seuss. The book was first published in 1971, but its fables on the environment are as relevant today, if not more.

Once upon a time...

For the benefit of those who are not aware, let me narrate the story of Once-ler in brief.

Once-ler is akin to any greedy industrialist you come across today. He cuts down all the Trufulla Trees in a beautiful valley to make a garment called Thneed, which is a rage among customers. Once-ler keeps cutting down trees till a time comes when none is left. With not a single tree around, the animals, birds and fish (the pond is polluted by the sewage from Once-ler’s factory) are forced to leave the valley.

At the end of the story, my daughter looked sad. Was it because of the destruction that Once-ler had brought upon the valley? Or was it because the ‘story was very long?’ Well, it may be both, but I sure hope that as she grows, my daughter pays heed to the statement that Once-ler made at the end of the story.

Realising his folly, Once-Ler tells a boy who was listening to his tale: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Once-ler then hands over the last Truffula seed to the boy and suggests that he grow a forest, which will bring back the animals and birds that were forced to leave the valley.


The advice rings so true for us! This year, we consumed our share of water, air and other resources that the Earth can generate in a year, by August 2. Last year, we reached the mark on August 8. This is the earliest that the Earth Overshoot Day has fallen. Till the 1970s, Earth was producing a little more than we were consuming.

But since then, we have turned hungrier and greedier every year — much like Once-ler. In 1997, we had consumed our annual ration by the end of November. Ten years later, the mark had been reached by early September.

The survey also gives a country-wide data. If we live like the Australians, the Overshoot Day would fall on March 12. And it would take an equivalent of more than five Earths to satiate our needs and wants. Many of the other developed countries, and large developing nations, are equally wasteful in their lifestyle.

Is India better?

India, though seems to be in a much better position. If everyone were to live like Indians, only 0.6 Earth would be needed. The world average is 1.7 Earths; in other words, we need the resources of 1.7 Earth every year.

But before we Indians start celebrating and look down on others’ excesses, here is a point. The main reason we fare better is that even now, nearly 30 per cent of Indians are poor. If only the 70 per cent Indians who are better off were taken into account, I’m sure we wouldn’t have managed all that well.

While it helps that a large percentage of Indians are vegetarians as compared to the rest of the world (the meat industry does leave behind a huge carbon footprint), it is but obvious that we are walking the path of the developed countries when it comes to evolving lifestyle patterns.

Facing the reality

That is why it is important that the coming generations, including my daughter’s, don’t ape the West. Because if we keep on with our spending, eating and living habits, researchers have shown that there won’t be enough land left to feed us.

Once-ler’s story is not a pleasant bedtime tale. But it’s a story we need to read and ponder upon, so when morning arrives, we are awake to the reality that’s staring at us.