Today, 22 August, is Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature's budget for the year, warns the Global Footprint Network.
Credit: Global Footprint Network
Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network measures humanity's demand for and supply of natural resources and ecological services. And the data is sobering. Global Footprint Network estimates that in approximately 8 months, we demanded more renewable resources and C02 sequestration than what the planet can provide for an entire year.
We are now operating in overdraft. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In 1992, Earth Overshoot Day- the approximate date our resource consumption for a given year exceeds the planet’s ability to replenish - fell on October 21. In 2002, Overshoot Day was on October 3. Given current trends in consumption, one thing is clear: Earth Overshoot Day tends to arrive a few days earlier each year.
Earth Overshoot Day, a concept originally developed by Global Footprint Network partner and UK think tank new economics foundation, is the annual marker of when we begin living beyond our means in a given year. While only a rough estimate of time and resource trends, Earth Overshoot Day is as close as science can be to measuring the gap between our demand for ecological resources and services, and how much Earth can provide.
Throughout most of history, humanity has used nature’s resources to build cities and roads, to provide food and create products, and to absorb our carbon dioxide at a rate that was well within Earth's budget. But in the mid-1970's, we crossed a critical threshold: Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce.
According to Global Footprint Network’s calculations, our demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to more than 1.5 Earths. The data shows us on track to require the resources of two planets well before mid-century.
The fact that we are using, or "spending," our natural capital faster than it can replenish is similar to having expenditures that continuously exceed income. In planetary terms, the costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. Climate change - va result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans - is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others - shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few. The environmental and financial crises we are experiencing are symptoms of looming catastrophe. Humanity is simply using more than what the planet can provide.
Earth Overshoot Day is an estimate, not an exact date. It's not possible to determine with 100 percent accuracy the day we bust our ecological budget. Adjustments of the date that we go into overshoot are due to revised calculations, not ecological advances on the part of humanity. The when is less important than the what.
Further information about Earth Overshoot Day is available on the Global Footprint Network website.
This article, published by The Global Footprint Network, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.