On September 23rd this year we mark an unfortunate milestone: As of today, humanity will have consumed all the new resources the planet will produce this year, according to Global Footprint Network calculations. For the rest of 2008, we will be in the ecological equivalent of deficit depending, drawing down our resource stocks – in essence, borrowing from the future.
The recent bank failures in the United States have shown what happens when debt and spending get out of control. We are seeing signs of similarly disastrous consequences from our ecological overspending. Climate change, shrinking forests, declining biodiversity and current world food shortages are all results of the fact that we are demanding more from nature than it can supply.
Humans now require the resources of 1.4 planets
Just like any company nature has a budget – it can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste each year. Globally, we now demand the biological capacity of 1.4 planets, according to Global Footprint Network data. But of course, we only have one.
Earth Overshoot Day (also known as Ecological Debt Day) was a concept devised by Global Footprint Network partner NEF (New Economics Foundation). Each year, Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries), and compares this with the amount of resources the world’s lands and seas generate. Our data shows us that in less than 10 months we consume what it takes the planet 12 months to produce.
Earth Overshoot Day creeps earlier every year
Humanity has been in overshoot since the mid 1980s, when the first Earth Overshoot Day fell on December 31, 1986. By 1995 it was more than a month earlier, arriving on November 21. Ten years later it had moved another six weeks earlier, to October 2, 2005.
What contributes to our increasing demand? Part of the story is that there are simply more people on the planet requiring nature’s services. In some areas of the world – most notably in high income regions like the U.S. and Europe, as well as industrializing nations like China – per capita resource consumption has also been increasing. In other areas of the world, however, including India and parts of Africa, per capita Ecological Footprints have actually declined, likely as a result of there being less resources available per person.
Carbon is also a big part of the story, as it is the greatest contributor to ecological overshoot. Humanity is emitting carbon faster than the planet can re-absorb it. Our carbon Footprint has increased more than 700 percent since 1961.
United Nations business-as-usual projections show humanity requiring the equivalent of two planets by 2050. (For details see Global Footprint Network and WWF’s Living Planet Report 2006). This would put Earth Overshoot Day on July 1, and means it would take two years for the planet to regenerate what we use in one year. Reaching this level of ecological deficit spending may be physically impossible.
What Can I Do to End Overshoot?
Global Footprint Network and 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 central part of decision-making everywhere.
Citizens can take action to get out of overshoot in their own lives: eating less meat, driving and flying less, and using less energy in the home. They can also encourage government and business leaders to build communities with smart infrastructure planning and best-practice green technology. Use our interactive calculator to determine your own Ecological Footprint and learn what you can do to reduce it.
With international commitment to end overshoot, Earth Overshoot Day can become history instead of news.
Learn More about Earth Overshoot Day
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Post Comments • Read Comments (1)
Posted by sarah on 11/12/2009 at 08:47 PM
So what is Earth Overshoot Day?
just to make it easier