There are only so many fossil and renewable resources on this planet to sustain our expanding population. Last year, for example, humanity exhausted the earth’s resource budget for 2013 in just 8 months!
This ecological overshoot is marked each year by the Global Footprint Network’s Earth Overshoot Day, the day we begin to live beyond our ecological means in that year. From that date on, we live in a planetary ‘overdraft’, maintaining our ecological ‘deficit’ by ‘drawing down’ local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was August 20. The trouble is, we continue to deplete our resources faster every year. Keeping with past trends, we can expect to reach ecological overshoot in 2014 some time mid-August or before:
- 2014: ??
- 2012: August 23
- 2008: September 23
- 2005: October 20
- 1995: November 21
- 1980: November 8
It’s true. Throughout most of our history, humans have relied upon 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 our planet’s budget. So what changed? In the mid-1970s our consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce.
Today that deficit stands at over 50%. We are now using 1.5 planets each year to sustain our (over)consumption.
If we continue current patterns of overconsumption, we will need more than 3 planets to support an estimated 9 billion of us by 2050. But … we have just one.
The fact that we are using, or “spending,” our natural capital faster than it can replenish is similar to having household expenditures that continuously exceed income. But these planetary costs manifest themselves in climate change (the result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans); shrinking forests; species loss; fisheries collapse; higher commodity prices; and civil unrest.
Call to Action
While Earth Overshoot Day is a sad reminder of our unsustainable way of life, it also can be seen as a wake-up call to live more connected with our planet and with one another. We know what we need to do, and there are plenty of resources available to help us track and reduce our individual footprints; our country’s footprint; and the world’s footprint. The Global Footprint Network is a terrific first start.
If you have resources you would like to see us incorporate, email us and well add yours to our lists.