Footprint Network Blog - Ecological Limits
As of this week, we are in overshoot. Humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year.
August 20 was Earth Overshoot Day 2013, the approximate date humanity’s ecological resource consumption exceeded what Earth can renew this year. A mere 34 weeks into 2013, we demanded a level of ecological resources and services — from food and raw materials to sequestering carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions — equivalent to what Earth can regenerate for all of 2013.
For the rest of the year, we are operating in ecological overshoot. We will maintain our ecological deficit by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. As our level of consumption, or “spending,” grows, the interest we are paying on this mounting ecological debt — shrinking forests, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse, food shortages, degraded land productivity and the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and oceans — not only burdens the environment but also undermines our economies. Climate change — a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans — is the most widespread impact of ecological overspending.
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual observance meant to bring attention to the risks of humanity’s growing ecological deficit. Making better choices will better ensure that we can reverse trends and move toward a sustainable future; measuring how much nature we have, how much we use and how much we need will help us make those choices. This year, due in no small part to the critical support of our partners and supporters, that message resonated around the world.
Major world media reported on Earth Overshoot Day 2013. The front page of the print version of the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa featured our infographic of ecological debtor countries as its Page 1 centerpiece. France’s Le Monde and Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo ran articles explaining Overshoot Day calculations and the implications of humanity’s increasing Ecological Footprint. Mexico’s El Universal, the UK’s Daily Mail, Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger, the U.S. magazine Popular Science and the Brazilian science journal Galileu, among many others, also had their own stories, while Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported the story for Liberation and Le Figaro newspapers (both France), FOX News, the Japan Times, Manila Times, Voice Russia and other media outlets. Television and radio — such as the multilingual Euronews television network, CBS radio, Swiss radio, and broadcasters in Ireland, Uruguay, Mexico, Quebec, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere — carried either live interviews or taped stories on Earth Overshoot Day.
As media reportage provided the context, op-ed and commentary addressed strategies for living in a resource constrained world. Andrew Simms, originator of the Earth Overshoot Day concept and chief analyst at Global Witness, made the case for living within our means in The Guardian (UK). Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US, urged businesses to “begin producing more with less” in Foreign Affairs. “We have only a 15 to 20-year window in which to turn the tide,” Alessandro Galli, Global Footprint Network Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director, wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News.
This year’s print, airtime and online media and blog space devoted to Earth Overshoot Day were the best yet. And social media was ablaze. Facebook comments and reposts and Twitter #OvershootDay and #EcologicalOvershoot tweets and retweets climbed steadily. WWF’s concurrent #oshoot Vine and Thunderclap campaigns rolled across Twitter to create a collective shout about humanity already exceeding this year’s ecological resource limits.
Other partners such as INKOTA in Berlin, Germany and Swiss Clean Tech in Bern, Switzerland held events to commemorate the day. We heard from many followers as well, including a community college teacher who used Global Footprint Network’s individual Ecological Footprint calculator as a way to introduce her students to ecological resource limits on the semester’s first day of her “Humans and the Environment” course.
Thank you all for your dedication to raise awareness about this annual mark of humanity’s ecological overspending. We look forward to the day when we can celebrate our success together in reversing current trends and moving toward a world that works for everyone.
Despite over $150 billion being spent annually in development globally, virtually nobody is tracking whether the achieved progress can last, or whether it is becoming increasingly fragile without the necessary access to nature’s resources.
But this is changing. The United Nations Development Programme’s latest flagship publication, its Human Development Report 2013, prominently features countries’ performance as proposed by Global Footprint Network: how much human well-being do countries generate (as measured by the UNDP’s Human Development Index) at what level of resource demand (as measured by the Ecological Footprint).
The Report reads:
“To sustain progress in human development, far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment. The goal is high human development and a low ecological footprint per capita. Only a few countries come close to creating such a globally reproducible high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.”
It is a significant step for a leading UN agency to question business-as-usual models of development and explore alternatives. In the past, the report included Ecological Footprint results in its background data table, but this year UNDP used our HDI-Footprint graph to prominently show how far away the world is from meeting the sustainable development challenge, using simple metrics.
Gastautor Mathis Wackernagel bloggt fur ETH-Klimablog
Flugzeuge ohne Treibstoffanzeige auf dem Armaturenbrett sind gefährlich. Fürs Starten geht’s. Aber sind wir mal in der Luft und fliegen ein paar Stunden, so ist es gut zu wissen, wie viel Kerosin noch im Tank ist, und wann wir landen sollten.Erstaunlicherweise aber hat das Armaturenbrett unserer Wirtschaft keine «Treibstoffanzeige».
Obwohl alle Ressourcen, die wir konsumieren, von der Natur kommen, finden wir im klassischen Instrumentarium der Politik keine Anzeige, die uns sagt, wie viel Natur uns zur Verfügung steht und wie viel wir brauchen. Einzelne Angaben kennen wir zwar – zum Beispel wie viel Elektrizität wir verbrauchen, oder wie viele Autos wir fahren. Aber die Nettobilanz? Wie sieht es, aus wenn wir alles zusammenzählen? Und ist das überhaupt möglich?
Around 600 guests from government, business, civil society and the arts gathered at a gala in Basel, Switzerland on Friday, March 1, to celebrate stewards of sustainability. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Nature and Culture – the Future We Want!” and the highlight of the evening was the announcement of the 2013 Prix NATURE Swisscanto Prize winners.
This Swiss Sustainability Award recognizes outstanding achievements advancing sustainable development in Switzerland and is presented in three categories: Grand Prize, Generation Future, and Beacons of Hope.
The Grand Prize was awarded to Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, in recognition of co-developing Ecological Footprint accounting and helping to bring the tool to governments and institutions across the world.
In January, we learned that the Swiss-based Global Journal has named us one of the world’s best 100 NGOs for the second year in a row. The honor is in part a recognition of our accomplishments over the past year.
In 2012 alone, we engaged with 18 national governments and several international institutions, conducted numerous presentations and workshops and received multiple awards (the Blue Planet Prize, the Binding Prize for Nature and the Kenneth E. Boulding Memorial Award).
In October, we highlighted the increasingly worrisome ecological debt of the Mediterranean nations at a two-day international conference in Venice, participated in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting in Laos, presented to a working session on the environment in the Greek Parliament, launched a preliminary Ecological Footprint atlas of Francophone nations, conducted a workshop with the Turkish government on Competitiveness 2.0 and Ecological Footprint accounting, and met with government ministries in Colombia after a conference on sustainable tourism.
In an era of resource constraints, how can a nation support the long-term success of its economy and the well-being of its citizens, while living within ecological limits? How will leaders react to the fact that their nation, which is in ecological deficit (occurring when the Footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population), relies upon other nations that not only are also in ecological deficit themselves but that are also dependent upon other nations that are in ecological overshoot?
These are just two questions that emerge when one examines the combined findings of recent reports on the Ecological Footprint of three Asian nations—Japan, China and the Philippines. All three nations are in ecological deficit (like most others—83 percent of humanity now lives in countries where the demand on nature’s services exceeds what local ecosystems can provide).
In November, Global Footprint Network released “A Measure for Resilience: 2012 Report on the Ecological Footprint of the Philippines,” in collaboration with the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines and the French Agency for Development. It is the first such report for a Southeast Asian nation.
Global Footprint Network’s Asia Regional Director Pati Poblete and Vice President of Operations Geoff Trotter (both far right) presented the first Footprint study of a Southeast Asian nation with (from left) Elisea Gozum, the Philippines Presidential Adviser on Climate Change; Agence Francaise de Development Country Director Lucle Cabellec; France Ambassador to Philippines Gilles Garachon; Miss Earth 2011 Olga Alava; Climate Change Commission Vice Chairman Mary Ann L. Sering; and Climate Change Commissioner Naderev M. Sano. The launch took place at Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippines.(PNA photo Marvie A.Lloren)
The Philippines entered into ecological deficit by the 1960s, and the gap between demand and local biocapacity has been widening over time. In 2008 (the most recent year data is available), Philippine residents’ demand on nature was twice the country’s own capacity to provide biological resources and absorb its carbon emissions.
The report’s findings were presented before the Climate Change Commission, a cabinet-level stakeholder group within the Philippine national government, headed by the Office of the President and various ministries. The Commission enthusiastically and anonymously moved to adopt the findings of the report, which will be disseminated to other government agencies.
“Enough should be the central concept in economics,” writes Herman Daly, a Global Footprint Network advisor and one of the founders of ecological economics, in the forward to the fascinating new book, “Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.”
The book challenges the dominant thesis of contemporary economics: Growth at any cost. Authors Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill start from the observation that the world economy, as it is currently run, is causing long-term environmental, societal and economic damage. They go on to map out alternative paths toward a steady-state economy (an economy with stable or mildly fluctuating size), one that prioritizes human well-being above growth and places economic activity squarely within ecological limits.
The authors argue compellingly that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a rather poor indicator of progress, ignoring significant aspects of human flourishing as well as externalizing costs such as air pollution or soil degradation. Several alternatives indicators to GDP are taking off. Among those mentioned in the book are the European Commission’s Beyond GDP initiative, the OECD’s Better Life Initiative, the Ecological Footprint, the Genuine Progress Indicator, the U.K.‘s Sustainable Development Indicators, the Happy Planet Index, and the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Indeed, the Ecological Footprint is one tool for helping nations move beyond the narrow GDP-focus that is helping to exacerbate the trends of ecological overshoot over the past few decades. As the authors say, “‘We manage what we measure’ is a cliché often uttered in business boardrooms, but it rings true. You could also say that we ‘mismanage what we mismeasure.’” Insofar as we are not measuring our demand on and capacity to provide ecological resources, we are mismanaging not only our economies, but our future.
Dietz is editor of Daly News and was the first director of CASSE (Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy); O’Neill is lecturer in ecological economics at the University of Leeds and the chief economist at CASSE.
Japan’s Prince Akishino and the Asahi Glass Foundation yesterday presented the Blue Planet Prize, one of the world’s premier environmental awards, to Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William E. Rees, co-creators of the Ecological Footprint, and Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, who was recognized for his work in advancing our understanding of biodiversity.
Two Blue Planet Prizes are awarded annually by the Asahi Glass Foundation to individuals or organizations that make outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application in helping to solve global environmental problems. The prize is considered one of the most prestigious in the field of conservation.
Building on Rees’ earlier work on human carrying capacity, Drs. Wackernagel and Rees in the early 1990s developed the Ecological Footprint, the world’s premier resource accounting system, to track humanity’s demands on nature. Dr. Lovejoy was the first to clarify that human-caused habitat fragmentation damaged biodiversity and gave rise to environmental crises.
The prize was presented Wednesday in the Tokyo Kaikan, across from the Imperial Palace, with the Imperial Highness Prince and Princess Akishino, ambassadors and members of the Asahi Glass Foundation in attendance. The photo shows Drs. Wackernagel and Rees receiving the trophy from Asahi Glass Chairman Tetsuji Tanaka. Dr. Wackernagel has donated his $300,000 share of the prize money to Global Footprint Network to advance the Ecological Footprint work, and has invited supporters to help match the gift.
“I am convinced more than ever that it is possible to turn our economies into stewards of our planet,” Dr. Wackernagel said in his acceptance speech. “We cannot continue forever to take more from the planet than the planet can give.”
Senior Scientist Alessandro Galli delivered a talk in the Athenian Parliament last week during a Special Permanent Committee on Environmental Protection. The session theme was titled, “How MPs can contribute to the efficient depollution of the Mediterranean.” Galli was asked to deliver a Framework Setting presentation to introduce discussions on the challenges, successes and lessons learned about cleaner industrial production and the promotion of a green economy through greening of sectors such as tourism and agriculture.
Galli then focused on the Ecological Footprint of the Mediterranean region and outlined some of the key findings from the newly released “Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends” report. His talk starts at about 1:27:50 into the video below.
We are approaching this year’s Earth Overshoot Day, the approximate date our demand for ecological resources and services exceeds the planet’s ability to provide for the year.
While we are not yet announcing the exact date of Earth Overshoot Day, Global Footprint Network will host a Tweet Chat on Twitter (@EndOvershoot) at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 6:00 pm (all PST) on August 22 to discuss Ecological Overshoot: What it means and how the Ecological Footprint is calculated.
You can indicate your “attendance” on our Facebook Event page.