As of yesterday August 22nd 2012, Humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year, and is now operating in overdraft, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international research organization with offices in California and Europe.
Earth Overshoot Day (from a concept devised by the UK think tank new economics foundation) helps
conceptualize the gap between what nature can regenerate, and how much is required to support human
activities. Similar to the way a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network tracks humanity’s demand for, and supply of, natural resources and ecological services. Global Footprint Network’s calculations show that in just over eight months, we have used up the resources and CO2 sequestration that the planet can sustainably provide this year.
Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network measures humanity’s demand for and supply of natural resources and ecological services. And the data is sobering. Global Footprint Network estimates that in approximately 8 months, we demanded more renewable resources and C02 sequestration than what the planet can provide for an entire year.
In 1992, Earth Overshoot Day—the approximate date our resource consumption for a given year exceeds the planet’s ability to replenish—fell on October 21. In 2002, Overshoot Day was on October 3. Given current trends in consumption, one thing is clear: Earth Overshoot Day tends to arrive a few days earlier each year.
For most of human history, humanity has used nature’s services—to build cities and roads, provide food and create products, and absorb the CO2 generated by human activities—at a rate that was well within Earth’s budget. But sometime in the 1970s, we crossed a critical threshold. Human demand began outstripping what the planet could renewably produce, and we went into ecological overshoot.
Today, humanity is using the equivalent of just over 1.5 Earth’s worth of ecological resources and services. If current trends continue unchanged, we are on track to require the resources of two planets well before midcentury.