Today is Earth Overshoot Day

09/24/2009 11:10 PM

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.


Posted by {name_of_commenter} on 10/02/2009 at 04:03 PM

Why problems of ecology do not stand on the first place in human activity? Will there be a limit of displacement and pollution of nature by mankind?

Many factors determine the unecological attitude of
mankind to nature.
1. Interconnected factors, which determine the
ecological attitude to nature. There are
interconnected factors which affect our ecological
attitude to nature: economical, socially-political,
geographical, ecological, physical, cultural, ethical,
ethnic, laws of development of the world. These factors
govern the conditions underlying the achievement of an
ecological attitude to nature.
2. Plurality of socio-political and socio-economic
systems. This plurality influences the opportunity to
adopt an ecological attitude to nature. Many
undeveloped countries with low incomes of people will
have little possibility to adopt an effective ecological
attitude to nature as they develop. They frequently have
no access to sufficient volumes of oil and gas, to
potable water, etc. They have no ecologically wellfounded
volume of natural territories, which would
allow creating settlements with the necessary areas of
the forests, meadows, rivers, lakes, etc. The world has a
very wide range of countries with a huge disparity in
technological and economic opportunities, and with a
wide disparity in the educational level of the
populations and needs of people.
3. Plurality of geographical conditions. The plurality
of geographical conditions exerts considerableinfluence on the possibility of harmonious interaction
of human populations with the landscape, and on the
achievement of a condition of ecological equilibrium.
4. Numerous individual barriers of socioeconomic
and socio-ecological development stand in
the difficult way of the achievement of an ecological
attitude to nature: 1. Poor ecological and ethical
erudition and the lack of an ecological education of the
population at large, and of specialists and managers; it
leads to a consumer attitude to nature, to depredation of
natural resources, etc. 2. Owing to poverty of the most
part of the world’s population, the problems of survival
stand in the foreground, instead of an ecological
attitude to nature. 3. The widening economic
differentiation leads to stratification of society in
classes which are unable to cooperate in the
achievement of an ecological attitude to nature. 4.
Imperfection of ecologically oriented laws and
mechanisms of their execution. 5. Homelessness and
criminality. 6. Historic decisions which have resulted in
pollution, the use of dirty out-of-date technologies, the
existence of very much-polluted cities and dumps with
little or no use of remediation measures. 7. The history
of relations between nation states perhaps involving
military conflicts and terrorism._
5. Plurality of ethnic groups, ethnic traditions
and preferences. This plurality will influence the
choice of ecological decisions according to ethnic
traditions and preferences. It concerns architectural
physics (indoor climate, light and sound environment),
sizes of rooms and buildings, their appearance, used
materials, requirements to satisfy the needs for
dwellings, etc. Ideally ethnic features and preferences
should not contradict ecological laws and ethics.
6. Instability of world development with
bifurcations and binary plurality. The evolution of
nature, society, and individuals proceeds with
bifurcations, sooner or later balancing “positive” and
“negative” (from the point of view of the individual)
branches. Only such an evolution supports the existence
of a holistic binary plural world. Thus, holism
(integrity) of the plural world is expressed in dynamical
combination of mutually counterbalancing subjects and
phenomena making the general mosaic picture of
integrity, including, for example, any “norms” of one or
another kinds of landscape – woods, deserts, ice, bogs
and so forth. Binary multiplicity, inseparability of the
world and of individuals is an important characteristic.
It is necessary for the detailed study of characteristics
of all subjects and phenomena of the biosphere. Binary
pluralities of the whole world in terms of its inorganic
and organic components are most important factors of
life and evolution. To drain marshes, to transform
deserts into flowering gardens, to unfreeze glaciers, to
remove forests, to change river courses, to completely
destroy species (extirpate predators and unpleasant
species), to reduce biodiversity to a monotony of
cultural and useful plants – these are an aspiration
leading us away from natural and necessary duality
(evolutional multiplicity) of the world with often
unforeseen consequences.
7. Features of human aspiration. It is now widely
accepted that we face the threat of the fast exhaustion of
natural resources leading to pollution and
environmental crises. There remains a sharp
differentiation in the quality of life, in incomes in
different parts of the world, and in the availability of
natural resources, such as access to fresh water, which
may be a cause of future conflicts and wars between
nations. “Homo sapiens,” the reasonable man, has not
executed a task of reasonable management of nature in
the past, having created a polluted environment for
himself and an unsustainable future, but also essentially
having worsened the conditions for may other
organisms. What are the reasons for this irrational coevolution
with nature, and unreasonable, shortsighted
behavior of the man in relation to himself? As is
known, the sources of all crises are in features of
thought, in the work of the brain.
The basic driving force in development of
humankind is for the most part the aspiration for the
satisfaction of human needs and, hence, to the
achievement of appropriate positive emotions. The
short-term memory, in which the person “lives,” is
limited. The sources of it lie in the necessity for fast
reactions and survival. Many major steps of humankind
are consequences of casual and superficial choices,
without a weighing of distant consequences and
without multilateral analyses. The strategic direction of
human development was the simplified method of “trial
and error.” The simplified duality of perception is
objective reality caused by evolution and features of the
structure and functioning of man’s brain and nervous
system. It is quite possible, that many complexities of
development of humankind and crises, caused by it, are
explained by the contradiction between the inclination
to simplify things and the real variety of the world of
nature. The human approach to the complicated and
various mechanisms of nature appears to be through
simplified and consequently rather rough rules and
actions. This process represents the satisfaction of a
constantly growing number and complexity of needs,
limited in the natural environment by the factors of
homeostasis. Aspiring to a fast reception of positive
emotions, man according to the simplification of
thought, is not capable of analyzing the remote
consequences of the satisfaction of new needs. When
the requirements of the analysis of many parameters
(simultaneous storing and handling by multitude of
units of the information, understanding of plurality of
nature and its interrelations) were presented to us,
human thought has appeared unable to cope. With our
inclination to simplify our interactions with nature, we
appear not to adapt well to understanding the
complexity. Features of this “crisis” thought and
appropriate actions presumably lie in structure and
functioning of brain function._
Many features influence the achievement of
ecological interactions of mankind with the world of
nature: features of simplified human thinking, objective
instability of development in the world, the plurality of
socio-political and socio-economic systems, the
plurality of geographical conditions, the plurality of
ethnic groups, ethnic traditions and preferences, and the
extreme variety of existing nation sizes, and big
distinctions in the level of technological development of
the countries. Research of the interaction of mankind
with nature is complicated and requires very detailed
study. Mankind must limit the displacement and
pollution of nature by our activities for own survival.
All the major problems of ecology must be in the first
place in the activity of mankind.

Posted by Alexander Tetior on 10/02/2009 at 03:41 PM

I completely support your researches and concern. I have included the data about “footprint” in some textbooks for our students. I have written articles in some newspapers. But in Russia (rich by resources) the few do think about scarce resources.

Posted by emergencyman on 09/29/2009 at 08:44 AM

I am more then just a little worried and concerned about our unintelligent abuses of resources and it’s effects on all of societies civilizations. I don’t get how one person can affect an global difference other then being an example to my immediate neighbors? I receive the magazine “National Geographic"and just recently in a interest of watching something about nature and rented Home and Earth two dvd’s
hoping for something pure and instructional to watch.So if you can forward to my E-mail address above a news letter from your website I’ll get involved as much as I can from a Christian perspective. Thank You
Tom Slack

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