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Today We Humans Used Up the Ecological Resources We Had for the Year

by Ben Jervey

August 19, 2014

images courtesy of Global Footprint Network

It sure didn’t take long for humanity to blow through its allowance of natural resources. Less than eight months in, and we’ve already burned up nature’s budget for a full calendar year. 

And so the Global Footprint Network has declared today, August 19th, official “Earth Overshoot Day.” From here on out, humanity is overdrawn on its account.  

If you’re familiar at all with the concept of the “Ecological Footprint,” then it shouldn’t come as much surprise that it would take roughly 1.5 Earths to produce the ecological resources we would need to sustainably support current human activity. To calculate Earth Overshoot Day, the GFN aggregates the available data on excessive resource abuse, pits it against a calendar, and thus allows us to better understand just how badly we’re living beyond our natural means.

Mathis Wackernagel, President of the GFN, who also helped design the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric, explains:

“We think like farmers: how big is ‘our farm,’ our planet, our country, or our region? And how much ‘farm’ does it take to produce everything we demand from nature—food, timber, fibers, and neutralizing waste, such as sequestration of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. The latter, our Footprint, we can then compare to the former, our biocapacity. What we realize is that our global farm—our planet—is becoming small compared to humanity’s demands. We are now using up nature’s annual budget in less than eight months.”

Global Footprint Network researchers not only calculate the footprint and budget for the whole planet, but for individual countries as well. This lets us see which nations are living within their means, and which are leading the world into ecological deficit.

“[Overshoot] is both an ecological and an economic problem,” says Wackernagel. “Countries with resource deficits and low income [those in the lower left quadrant above] are exceptionally vulnerable.”

What’s worse is that every year Earth Overshoot Day creeps up a little earlier on the calendar. “We seem to be getting faster at using up the annual budget,” Wackernagel said. In 1961, humans used just three-quarters of the planet’s available biocapacity, but economic development and population growth pushed us into overshoot mode by the early ‘70s. Fast forward to 2000 and Earth Overshoot Day has crept all the way up to early October. This year, it’s only mid-summer and we’re already in the red.

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