Humanity continues to use up too many ecological resources

Did the Earth move for you last week? No? It should have done on Monday August 2nd as this marked Earth Overshoot Day.

What on earth is Earth Overshoot Day? This is the calculation made each year since 2006 marking the day when humanity used more from nature than the planet can renew in the whole year.

In other words it is the day we all went into ecological ‘debt’ or when humanity used more renewable natural resources than the planet can regenerate for 2017.

Earth Overshoot Day is worked out by Global Footprint Network, a non-profit research organisation and think tank.

Overshoot Day is calculated by dividing the planet’s bio-capacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (that is, humanity’s demand for the year). This ratio is then multiplied by 365 to get the date when Earth Overshoot Day is reached – hence the earlier the date, the more out of synch we are.

The Earth’s Ecological Footprint is defined as the amount of biologically productive land and sea required to produce all the resources a population consumes and to absorb its waste.

Not surprisingly the majority of the ‘overshoot’ is accounted for by our carbon footprint – this makes up 60% of the planet’s total ecological footprint.

But food is also a big part of the global footprint accounting for 26%. A lot of the ecological ‘overspending’ in general has the potential to impact food systems. ‘Overspending’ includes soil erosion, deforestation, species extinction, fisheries collapse and carbon concentration in the atmosphere.

Overshoot Day is slowing but still hit new record

By these sorts of calculations, based on large data sets produced by the United Nations, the planet started going into global overshoot from the early 1970s.

But there is some good news. Global Footprint Network say that the rate of overshoot has been slowing down over the past five years, going back by on average one day a year compared to three days every year from the 1970s. But the bad news is this year was the earliest overshoot day yet; when launched in 2006 overshoot day was in October.

Overshoot is driven by four factors Global Footprint Network say. These are:

  • How much we consume;
  • How efficiently products are made;
  • How many of us there are (population);
  • How much nature’s ecosystems are able to produce.

This type of ecological science also gives rise to the number of planet earth’s we would need to sustain current levels of consumption. Currently this stands at 1.7 planets and on present trends is forecast to rise to two Earth’s worth of resources by 2030. Obviously the amount of planetary resources consumed varies greatly by country – a typical western country uses up around four Earth’s worth of ecological resources.

It is science such as this that shows, as things stand, humanity’s demand on nature is at an unsustainable level.

For some sobering reflection and a fun exercise Global Footprint have produced a quiz so you can calculate your own ecological footprint and overshoot day – it is here: http://www.footprintcalculator.org/#!/

Sadly for me, the Earth didn’t move last week.