Boundless Plains to Pillage

As we consider Australia's Earth Overshoot Day, Dr Mick Pope asks us to ponder if the world in which we live is as boundless as we think?

I was once invited to help launch an ecological ministry at a church in Wagga Wagga. Driving late at night to the small sheep property I would be staying at, I drove down dark country roads lit only by my headlights, while the Milky Way blazed overhead. The narrow, unpaved road was strewn with branches and rocks, and in the dark the trees seemed to go on forever. I thought I was in the middle of nowhere. The next morning my illusions where shattered. In the cold light of day, it was clear that I was surrounded by fields, and the trees were just a line along either side of the road.

What this is meant to illustrate is that if we think the world in which we live in is boundless, we are mistaken. It is an illusion. What was once seemingly endless now appears all too finite. We use more of the world in which we live. We have grasped after wisdom while rejecting the divine wisdom of limits (Gen 3).

Earth Overshoot Day is a reminder of our excesses. Its definition is ambiguous and problematic, marking the date “when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.” True, the Earth is a regenerating system. Call it Gaia if you will. Mother Earth even. The bible from Genesis through Leviticus to Romans does not shy away from giving the Earth itself (or herself) agency and responsibility. Yet language of resources and services seems far too economic and mechanistic, even if true. Gifts perhaps. Reciprocities.

Earth Overshoot Day is a projection. Last year it fell on August 22 globally.[1] This date measures the number of days of the year that Earth’s biocapacity (production of natural “resources”) is enough to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint (the land and sea required to provide these “resources”). The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot.

Each country also has its own overshoot day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Australia ranks 12th behind countries like the USA, Canada, Qatar, and the UAE.[2] A recent report[3] shows that 19 of Australia’s ecosystems are collapsing.[4] This includes the Great Barrier Reef, Shark Bay, and our kelp and Alpine forests. None of this is surprising as we have seen unnecessary coal mines given special favours, and koala habitat sacrificed. Australia is a champion when it comes to chopping down trees and killing our wildlife.[5]

Settler colonialism is embedded in ideas of capitalism, (white male) human exceptionalism, and dualism. Now more than ever, we need to listen to science and the prophetic message of our existential crisis. Now more than ever, we need to return to Scripture and repent of our individualism, our greed, and our exceptionalism. Now more than ever, we need to turn to Aboriginal peoples, our sisters and brothers, in humility and repentance.  Now more than ever, we need to listen to the voices of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples feeling the impacts of climate change and seeing the destruction of country today. March 22 is a day of lament, but as science and the Scripture tell us, a day not without hope.


Register to participate in the online event at 8pm AEDT on March 22nd here and receive the zoom link via email.




[3] Paywalled at

[4] See for example



Mick Pope has a PhD in meteorology, and is completing a Masters on Genesis 1-3 and Anthropocene ethics. He is the author of A Climate of Hope (with Clare Dawson), A Climate of Justice, and All Things New: God's Plan to Renew our World. He hosts the podcast The Natural Philosopher.

Online Prayer Vigil for Earth Overshoot Day