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Our mission is to promote a sustainable economy by advancing the Ecological Footprint, a measurement tool that makes the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers.

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Sept. 25, 2009: Today is Earth Overshoot Day

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

September 25 marked this year’s Earth Overshoot Day: the day global demand on ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing food, fiber and timber– outstripped what than nature can produce in this year, according to Global Footprint Network calculations. From now until the end of the year, we will meet our demand for ecological services by depleting resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“It’s a simple case of income versus expenditures,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. “For years, our demand on nature has exceeded, by an increasingly greater margin, the budget of what nature can produce. The urgent threats we are seeing now – most notably climate change, but also biodiversity loss, shrinking forests, declining fisheries, soil erosion and freshwater stress – are all clear signs: Nature is running out of credit to extend.”

Just like any country, company, or household, nature has a budget – it can only produce so much resources and absorb so much waste each year. The problem is, our demand on nature exceeds its capacity to generate resources and absorb CO2,a condition known as ecological overshoot. We now use a year’s worth of capacity in less than 10 months. Our calculations show that if we continue with business as usual, according to moderate U.N. projections, in less than 25 years humanity will require the regenerative capacity of two planets– a level of demand that is likely to be physically impossible to meet.

Global Recession Barely Slows Demand

Because of the global economic slowdown, we will reach Earth Overshoot Day one day later than last year, according to Global Footprint Network projections. By comparison, in the past, Earth Overshoot Day has steadily moved four to six days closer to January 1st each year. 

“The fact is that in spite of a very painful world economic situation, we are still way over-budget in our use of nature,” said Wackernagel.  “The challenge is to find a way to reduce overshoot in boom times as well as lean years. This will mean finding a way to maintain healthy economies and provide for human well-being in a way that doesn’t depend on liquidating resources and accumulating CO2.”

Addressing Carbon Key To Balancing the Budget

Earth Overshoot Day comes just 80 days before world leaders meet at Copenhagen to tackle the most prominent consequence of our ecological overspending: climate change.  Our carbon Footprint (as calculated by Global Footprint Network, the amount of land and sea it would take to absorb all the CO2 we emit) has increased 1,000% since 1961. Carbon dioxide emissions now account for over half of human demand on nature. We are now emitting much more carbon dioxide than the natural ecosystems of the planet can absorb; thus it is building up in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

How Earth Overshoot Day is calculated

Every year, Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint – the amount of productive land and sea area required to produce the resources we consume and absorb our CO2 emissions – and compares that with biocapacity, the ability of ecosystems to generate resources and sequester CO2. Earth Overshoot Day in 2009 is calculated from 2005 results (the most recent year for which data are available), and on projections based on historical rates of growth in population and consumption. In addition, the historical links between world GDP and resource demand are used to account for the impact on consumption of the worldwide economic slowdown.

Ecological Footprint analysis reveals that globally, we currently use 40 percent more regenerative capacity than is available in nature. However, countries vary widely in their average demand. If everyone lived like a resident of the U.S., for example, we would reach Earth Overshoot Day in March.

Taking Action

This Earth Overshoot Day, Global Footprint Network will be participating in Climate Week NYC to call on leaders for action at Copenhagen. We have also engaged with dozens of partners around the world who are hosting their own events and outreach efforts.

“Once city, country and business leaders realize that considering the reality of ecological limits is the best way to remain competitive and prepared for the future, they will begin to make the policy decisions and drive the technological innovations we need to live within nature’s means,” Wackernagel said. “And it is, of course, critical for individuals to do all they can and to push their leaders to action.”

Global Footprint Network with its international partner network is focused on solving the problem of overshoot, working with businesses and government leaders around the world to make ecological limits a core aspect of decision-making everywhere. With an international commitment to end overshoot, we can make Earth Overshoot Day history instead of news.