(OAKLAND, CA, USA) – It has taken humanity less than nine months to exhaust its ecological budget for the year, according to data from Global Footprint Network, a California-based environmental research organization.
Global Footprint Network calculates nature's supply in the form of biocapacity, the amount of resources the planet regenerates each year, and compares that to human demand: the amount it takes to produce all the living resources we consume and absorb our carbon dioxide emissions.
Its data reveal that, as of August 21, humanity will have demanded all the ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food – that nature can provide this year.
From now until the end of the year, we will meet our ecological demand by depleting resource stocks and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
"If you spent your entire annual income in nine months, you would probably be extremely concerned," said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel.
"The situation is no less dire when it comes to our ecological budget. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages - these are all clear signs that we can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing."
Learn more: www.footprintnetwork.org/earthovershootday
What is Overshoot?
For most of human history, humanity has been able to live off of nature's interest - consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year.
But approximately three decades ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for ecological services began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them.
This gap between demand and supply - known as ecological overshoot - has grown steadily each year. It now takes one year and six months to regenerate the resources that humanity requires in one year.
Addressing Carbon Key to Balancing the Budget
Climate change is perhaps the most prominent sign of our ecological overspending. Our carbon Footprint (as calculated by Global Footprint Network, the amount of land and sea area it would take to absorb all the CO2 we emit) is the biggest part of humanity's Ecological Footprint, and is by far the fastest-growing. Our carbon Footprint has more than doubled since 1970.
During that time, it has increased at a rate more than three-times faster than the next-fastest growing portion of humanity's Footprint, built-up land. Carbon dioxide emissions now account for over half of human demand on nature. We are now emitting much more carbon dioxide than the natural ecosystems of the planet can absorb; thus it is building up in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
Earth Overshoot Day
Every year, Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint – the amount of productive land and sea area required to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, including CO2 emissions – and compares that with biocapacity, the ability of ecosystems to regenerate resources.
Earth Overshoot Day, a concept devised by U.K.-based new economics foundation, is calculated from 2007 data (the most recent year for which data are available) and projections based on historical rates of growth in population and consumption, as well as the historical link between world GDP and resource demand.
Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was observed on September 25, 2009. This year, overshoot day is estimated to come more than a month earlier in the year. This is not due to a sudden change in human demand, but rather to improvements in the calculation methodology that enable us to more adequately capture the extent of overshoot. (For example, our latest data show the world has less biocapacity available, primarily in the area of grazing land, than previously estimated.)
"We would expect our estimates of overshoot to be, if anything, conservative." Wackernagel said.
"We know we are far from living within the means of one planet. The good news is, much of the technology we have to begin to address this problem is available and it is open source: things like compact urban design, energy-efficient housing, ecological tax reform, removal of resource subsidies, safe and affordable family planning, bicycles, low-meat diets, and life-cycle costing."
To calculate your own personal Ecological Footprint, and learn what you can do to reduce it, go to www.footprintnetwork.org/calculator.
About Global Footprint Network
Global Footprint Network (www.footprintnetwork.org) is an environmental research organization working to advance sustainability through use of the Ecological Footprint, a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use and who uses what.
Global Footprint Network and its international partner network is focused on solving the problem of overshoot, working with businesses and government leaders around the world to make ecological limits a central part of decision-making everywhere.
To learn more about Earth Overshoot Day, visit www.footprintnetwork.org/earthovershootday
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While economies, populations and resource demands grow, the size of the planet remains the same. Since the 1980s, when global ecological overshoot became a consistent reality, we have been drawing down the biosphere's principal rather than living off its annual interest. To support our consumption, we have been liquidating resource stocks and allowing carbon dioxide to accumulate in the atmosphere.
Ecological overshoot is possible only for a limited time before ecosystems begin to degrade and possibly collapse. This can already be seen in water shortages, desertification, erosion, reduced cropland productivity, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid extinction of species, collapse of fisheries and global climate change. New consequences of overshoot are regularly being discovered, and others may only become apparent long into the future.
All data from Global Footprint Network’s 2009 National Footprint Accounts
- As of 2006, the most recent year for which data are available, the biologically productive area available on this planet was 1.8 hectares/person (4.5 acres), with no area set aside for wild species. Meanwhile, the average per capita Ecological Footprint was 2.6 global hectares/person (6.5 global acres).
- The amount of ecological resources and services that humanity requires has increased from slightly more than half of planet Earth’s biocapacity in 1961 to that of almost one and a half planets in 2006. (Note that biocapacity represents the rate at which the world's ecosystems are able to regenerate renewable resources, not the total stocks of these resources on Earth.)
- Moderate United Nations projections suggest that demand will grow significantly faster than biocapacity and that by the 2030s, the capacity of two Earths will be needed to keep up with our consumption. Staying on this course would quickly diminish our room to maneuver, and would put the well-being of many of the planet's residents increasingly at risk.
- The carbon Footprint, which accounts for the emissions from use of fossil fuels, is more than half of humanity’s total Ecological Footprint. Since 1970, our total carbon Footprint has more than tripled, from 2.9 to 9 billion global hectares. In that time carbon has also gone from being a smaller part of humanity’s total Footprint than cropland, to outstripping every other area of demand by a significant margin.
HOW EARTH OVERSHOOT DAY IS CALCULATED
Every year, Global Footprint Network determines global biocapacity - or the amount of resources nature is able to generate each year - and compares that with Ecological Footprint, the amount that humanity requires.
Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by comparing our demand (as calculated by the Ecological Footprint) against nature's supply (as calculated by biocapacity.) [world biocapacity / world Ecological Footprint ] x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day
This ratio shows that in just 233 days, we demand the biosphere’s entire capacity for the year 2009. The 233rd day of the year is August 21.
Note: 2010 Earth Overshoot Day is projected from preliminary assessments of 2007 data, and projections forward to 2010 of that data as follows:
- Biocapacity projections are based upon historical rates of biocapacity growth over the last five years.
- Ecological Footprint projections are derived by calculating the historical correlation between GDP growth and growth in the various Footprint components, and applying this to expected GDP growth in 2010 (as estimated by the International Monetary Fund).
HOW NATIONS COMPARE
Nations vary widely in their level of demand for ecological services. In some countries, the per capita Ecological Footprint is many times higher than the global average. In others, it is much lower - in some cases too low on average to provide for basic needs.
The average Ecological Footprint per person in the United States is 9 global hectares (22.5 global acres), the equivalent of about eight full-sized soccer fields.
The average Ecological Footprint per person in Germany is 4.03 global hectares (10 global acres).
On the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Pakistan, Congo and Haiti, which have an average Ecological Footprint of slightly more than one global hectare (half a global acre).
To view a bar graph of 150 countries, see www.footprintnetwork.org/EF_by_nation.
Ecological overshoot occurs when human demand exceeds the regenerative capacity of a natural ecosystem. Global overshoot occurs when humanity demands more resources and produces more waste, such as CO2, than the biosphere can regenerate and reabsorb.
The Ecological Footprint measures the amount of productive land and sea area it takes to produce all the resources a population consumes and absorb its waste, using prevailing technology.
Biocapacity is shorthand for biological capacity, which is the ability of an ecosystem to regenerate useful biological materials (resources) and to absorb wastes generated by humans.
Earth Overshoot Day, a concept devised by the U.K-based new economics foundation, (www.neweconomics.org), marks the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of resources and accumulating waste, primarily CO2 in the atmosphere.
Global hectares (acres) are hectares (acres) of land at world-average productivity.