Today is Earth Overshoot Day, but it's not exactly something we should be celebrating. It's actually a wakeup call for humanity.
Congratulations, Earthlings. You've managed to outspend nature's budget for the year, and it's only August. Would you like to take out a loan to cover the rest of the year? What can you put up for collateral? Perhaps your future?
It's a good thing the Earth doesn't have an aggressive debt collection agency, because we'd all be answering calls right about now, asking if we wanted to arrange a payment plan, or harassing us about repossessing our home planet. But even though we don't have to deal with that pesky creditor Gaia the same way we would a debt in our daily lives, we've still got to come to terms with the fact that humanity is spending our natural capital faster than our planet can regenerate it, and that bill's gonna come due sooner or later, in the form of major impacts on our food, water, energy, and natural resources. It's time to wake up and smell the ecological deficit and start living within our planetary means.
According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), an international ecological think tank, as of August 13th, 2015, we have effectively exhausted the amount of natural resources and ecological services that the planet can regenerate this year, reaching what the organization calls Earth Overshoot Day. At this rate, we need the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to provide what we use up each year, and considering how unlikely it is that we will be able to find and colonize another Earth-like planet anytime soon, that fact should be cause for some serious concern.
"Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest. This overshoot leads to a depletion of Earth’s life-supporting natural capital and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." - Earth Overshoot Day
GFN calculated last year's Earth Overshoot Day as landing on August 19th, 2014, so we're getting faster at spending our natural capital each year, which doesn't bode well for the future. And in the US, we've already hit Ecological Deficit Day on July 14th of this year, a full month before this global milestone was reached. Even in light of the recent policy work in the US energy sector, the ambitious goals and approaches to carbon emissions reductions coming out of global climate summits, and an increasing awareness of the various environmental issues we're facing, any changes we're making in our habits, systems, and policies feel like they're too little, too late.
According to GFN, if we don't rapidly shift things, by 2030, we'll be using the equivalent of two Earths' worth of natural resources and ecological services, and the pressure put on these natural systems could possibly lead to significant damage to the long-term biocapacity of the planet, which will then negatively affect the amount of resources available for our ever-growing population. Just in terms of carbon emissions alone, the GFN estimates that absorbing the greenhouse gases generated during 2015 "would require 85% of the planet's biocapacity."
"At current carbon emission levels, it would take twice the current global forest biocapacity to absorb all the carbon emissions that are generated around the world. A crazy feat if you consider that we also use forests for timber products. Also, this demand for carbon sequestration is greater than the entire biocapacity of crop land and grazing lands on the planet combined." - Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network
Part of the solution might lie in greater awareness of these "resource constraints." A recent survey from Tetra Pak and GFN found that while 86% of participants would choose a greener option (in this case, renewable packaging) if they knew it would reduce environmental impacts, only 41% of participants said they were "very aware" of the resource constraints issue, so it's pretty clear that we have a ways to go when it comes to informing and educating ourselves about it.
"Our survey confirms our belief that with information and education, consumers will respond favorably to the need to pay closer attention to resource challenges and change their individual actions, including making more environmentally responsible decisions around packaging." - Elisabeth Comere, Director, Environment & Government Affairs, Tetra Pak Inc.
Find out more about how much land area it takes to support your personal lifestyle with the GFN Footprint Calculator, and read about the causes and conditions that are behind our current ecological deficit at Earth Overshoot Day, as well as learn what you can do to make a difference, both locally and globally.