Creeping steadily up the calendar page is Earth Overshoot Day, the day our demand surpasses nature's budget. In almost 10 months, humanity has consumed all the new resources the planet will produce this year, according to Global Footprint Network calculations. We are now living beyond our ecological means, warns GFN. Every day from now on, we are essentially borrowing resources from the future:
Just like any company nature has a budget – it can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste each year. Globally, we now demand the biological capacity of 1.4 planets, according to Global Footprint Network data. But of course, we only have one.
What contributes to our increasing demand? Part of the story is that there are simply more people on the planet requiring nature’s services. In some areas of the world – most notably in high income regions like the U.S. and Europe, as well as industrializing nations like China – per capita resource consumption has also been increasing. In other areas of the world, however, including India and parts of Africa, per capita Ecological Footprints have actually declined, likely as a result of there being less resources available per person.
Carbon is also a big part of the story, as it is the greatest contributor to ecological overshoot. Humanity is emitting carbon faster than the planet can re-absorb it. Our carbon Footprint has increased more than 700 percent since 1961.
United Nations business-as-usual projections show humanity requiring the equivalent of two planets by 2050. (For details see Global Footprint Network and WWF’s Living Planet Report 2006). This would put Earth Overshoot Day on July 1, and means it would take two years for the planet to regenerate what we use in one year. Reaching this level of ecological deficit spending may be physically impossible.
The Global Footprint Network is working with businesses and governments worldwide to encourage them to make ecological limits a central part of their decision making processes, to integrate smart infrastructure and to implement green technology. They also recommend that we take action in our own lives by eating less meat, driving and flying less, and using less energy in the home.
But more important, perhaps, than choosing to take the bus home to eat veggies in your CFL-lit dining room, is the choice to remain optimistic about our ability to create a bright green future for all. Measurements like Earth Overshoot Day remind us of how huge the challenges are that we are up against. And unfortunately, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. But that is no reason to give up on creating a world where we all live within our ecological limits.
It's a bold indication that now is precisely the time to stand even taller and fight even harder for the world we want to live in.