August 22 is Earth Overshoot Day
Today, August 22, is Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature's budget for the 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.
Earth Overshoot Day (from a concept devised by the UK think tank new economics foundation) helps conceptualize the gap between what nature can regenerate, and how much is required to support human activities. Similar to the way a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network tracks humanity's demand for, and supply of, natural resources and ecological services. Global Footprint Network's calculations show that in just eight months, we have used up the renewable natural resources and CO2 sequestration that the planet can sustainably provide this year.
In the past year, severe economic and environmental crises have reverberated across the globe—ranging from the European debt predicament and extreme weather events to grain shortages, groundwater depletion and overfishing—affecting many among a world population that has surpassed the 7 billion mark.
"Nations around the world, and particularly in the south of Europe, have started to painfully experience what it means to spend more money than what they earn," said Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network. "The resource pressure is similar to such financial overspending, and can become devastating. As resource deficits get larger, and resource prices remain high, the costs to nations become unbearable."
For most of human history, humanity has used nature's services—to build cities and roads, provide food and create products, and absorb the CO2 generated by human activities—at a rate that was well within Earth's budget. But sometime in the 1970s, we crossed a critical threshold. Human demand began outstripping what the planet could renewably produce, and we went into ecological overshoot.
Today, humanity is using the equivalent of just over 1.5 Earth's worth of ecological resources and services. If current trends continue unchanged, we are on track to require the resources of two planets well before mid-century.
Our ecological overspending has become a vicious cycle, in which we draw down more and more principal at the same time our level of consumption, or "spending," grows. The social and economic costs could be staggering.
"From soaring fossil fuel prices to crippling national debts partly due to rising natural resource prices, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means," Dr. Wackernagel said. "If we are to maintain stable societies and productive lives, we can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require."
Organizations around the world are observing Earth Overshoot Day today with events to raise awareness of humanity's Ecological Overshoot. For example, students of Network Siena Sostenibilità at the University of Siena, Italy, are planting trees and providing recommendations for sustainable actions. The Club of Rome is coordinating events in public squares with their partners across Italy on Sept. 5. WWF Cymru in Wales, Greenpeace Germany and Plattform Footprint in Austria are hosting Overshoot Day-related events. Klimahaus Bremerhaven in Germany have planned several activities, including an exhibition comparing Ecological Footprints across the globe.
Global Footprint Network is hosting a Tweet Chat on Twitter (@EndOvershoot) using the hashtag #OvershootDay at 8am, 1pm, and 6pm (PST) today to discuss Ecological Overshoot and how the Ecological Footprint is calculated.
Ecological Overshoot and the Global Economy
While the global recession that began in October 2008 slowed humanity's demand for resources and CO2 sequestration, our consumption is still rising. To truly reverse trends without risk of greater economic downturns, resource limits must be at the core of decision-making. Current resource trends already cannot meet the needs of the planet's 7 billion—and growing—population. About two billion people lack access to the resources required to meet their basic needs. As millions in emerging economies join the middle class, our resource consumption and the world's ecological deficit will only increase.
China's total Ecological Footprint—that is, its demand for natural resources and the services they provide—is the world's largest, yet its per person Footprint remains modest. As its economy grows and its people prosper, China's large population and increasing per capita consumption will have an ever-greater impact on the world's widening ecological deficit. Already, we see how consumption patterns of individual countries grow global Overshoot: The per capita resource demands of the United States, which went into Overshoot on March 28, is still equivalent to the supply of more than four Earths. The per capita demands of Brazil, which went into Overshoot on July 6, requires the resources of just under two Earths. In Qatar, the typical citizen requires the resources of six and a half Earths.
Over the past few years, financial crises, civil unrest and environmental catastrophes have shaken several nations. Earth Overshoot Day offers a sobering reminder of the risks of ecological overspending—not just to humanity as a whole, but to nations, cities and businesses, whose long-term success and stability depend upon continued access to and sustainable consumption of natural resources.
It is possible to turn the tide and reverse current consumption trends. Global Footprint Network and its network of partners are working with organizations, governments and financial institutions around the globe to make decisions that are aligned with ecological reality—decisions that can help close the ecological budget gap and provide for a prosperous future in the face of changing and challenging resource trends.
"Now is the time to come up with ways of running our economies that will continue to work into the future," Dr. Wackernagel said. "Long-term recovery will only succeed if it occurs along with systematic reductions to our demand on resources and ecosystem services."
To learn more about Earth Overshoot Day and Global Footprint Network's work, or to donate, go towww.footprintnetwork.org.