Earth’s Natural Resources Account ‘Overdrawn’ Today

Logging in Oregon, USA (Photo by Heather Mirassou)


OAKLAND, California, August 20, 2013 (ENS) – Environmental economists have identified August 20 as “Earth Overshoot Day,” the day when humanity has consumed as much renewable natural resources as the planet can regenerate in one year.

Earth Overshoot Day is an initiative of the international sustainability think tank Global Footprint, which has offices in Oakland; Brussels, Belgium and Geneva, Switzerland.

According to Global Footprint’s calculations, today humanity’s demands exceed Earth’s carrying capacity – we are in the red for the rest of 2013.

Logging in Oregon, USA (Photo by Heather Mirassou)

Human demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to that of more than 1.5 Earths.

The data shows that humanity is on track to require the resources of two planets before mid-century. But back in 1961, human demand was met by the resources of  just 0.7 planets.

“Nature is the basis of our wellbeing and our prosperity, but we are using up way too much of the Earth’s finite resources,”  said Jim Leape, director general of WWF International, a Global Footprint partner organization.

“WWF’s Living Planet Report shows clearly that humanity’s demands exceed our planet’s capacity to sustain us. Simply put, we are asking for more than we have available,” said Leape.

The calculation of Earth Overshoot Day is based on Ecological Footprint data, which measures how much nature there is, how much humans use, and who uses what.

The National Footprint Accounts, developed by Global Footprint Network, provide comprehensive data about humanity’s demand on nature. Based on approximately 6,000 data points per country per year, they track how this demand compares across 232 countries, territories, and regions, and how it relates to the planet’s biological capacity to meet these demands.

spilled fish
Wasted fish on a wharf in Scotland (Photo by Peter Hawkey)

“Climate change is a major impact of overshoot, as using fossil fuels causes harmful emissions of carbon dioxide that the planet simply cannot absorb. Forests are shrinking, fish stocks are waning, land is getting degraded, freshwater resources are dwindling, and biological diversity is depleting,” says the Global Footprint on its website.

The first systematic attempt to calculate the ecological footprint and biocapacity of nations began in 1997 with a study by Mathais Wackernagel, a Swiss sustainability advocate, who is president of the Global Footprint Network.

During Wackernagel’s PhD studies at the University of British Columbia under Professor William Rees in 1994-95, the two men created the ecological footprint concept and developed the methodology.

“Environmental changes such as deforestation, collapsing fisheries, and carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere indicate that human demand is likely to be exceeding the regenerative and absorptive capacity of the biosphere,” says Global Footprint in its most recent paper on the methodology used to calculate Earth Overshoot day.

“As the demands upon natural systems rapidly increase due to the swelling global economy and the need to attain better standards of living, several studies suggest that many of the Earth’s thresholds are being exceeded and that, because of this, the biosphere’s future ability to provide for humanity is at risk,” Global Footprint warns.

luxury home
Luxury home in San Antonio, Texas, USA (Photo by ghhomebuying)

Global Footprint data now suggests that since 2001, Earth Overshoot Day has come three days earlier each year.

Each decade, Earth Overshoot Day appears to have arrived one month earlier. In 1993, Earth Overshoot Day fell on October 21. In 2003, Overshoot Day was on September 22. This year, August 20 is Overshoot Day.

China’s total Ecological Footprint is the world’s largest because it is the world’s most populous nation, according to the 2013 Global Footprint report. China’s per capita Footprint is  smaller than those of countries in Europe or North America, but for the past seven years it has exceeded what is available per person worldwide. “If everybody were to live like the typical resident of China, it would take 1.2 Earths to support the global population,” the think tank says.

Other countries’ per capita demands on the planet’s ecosystems are even higher. If everybody were to live like United States residents today, it would take four Earths to support the global population.

In Qatar, the typical resident requires the resources of six and a half Earths.

“While the global recession that began in October 2008 slowed humanity’s demand for resources, our consumption continues to rise,” according to Global Footprint Network. “To avoid economic hardship, resource limits must be at the core of decision-making.”

hotel Tokyo
Hotel room in Tokyo, Japan (Photo by Christian)

Current resource trends already cannot meet the needs of the planet’s seven billion population. About two billion people lack access to the resources required to meet their basic needs.

Today, more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that use more than their own ecosystems can renew. These “ecological debtor” countries either deplete their own ecological resources or get them from elsewhere.

Ecological debtors are using more than they have within their own borders. Japan’s residents consume the ecological resources of 7.1 Japans. It would take four Italys to support Italy. Egypt uses the ecological resources of 2.4 Egypts.

Not all countries demand more than their ecosystems can provide, but even the reserves of such “ecological creditors” like Brazil, Indonesia, and Sweden are shrinking over time, says Global Footprint.”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.”

“It is possible to turn the tide. Ecological debtors have an incentive to reduce their resource dependence, while creditors have the economic, political and strategic motive for preserving their ecological capital,” says Global Footprint Network. “Rather than liquidating resources, it is wiser to treat them as an ongoing source of wealth.”

In 2011, Earth Overshoot Day came a few weeks later than it did in 2010, but this does not mean humans reduced the global overshoot.

Earth Overshoot Day is an estimate, not an exact date, explains Global Footprint on its website. “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.”

Global Footprint Network and its partners are working with organizations, governments and financial institutions worldwide to help them make decisions aligned with ecological reality.

Click here to calculate your ecological footprint.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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