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Earth Overshoot Day—a marker of when the world's 7.6 billion people will "use more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year"—will fall on Aug. 1, the earliest date yet since we first went into ecological debt in the 1970s.
Aug. 2 was Earth Overshoot Day. Unlike Earth Day or Canada Day, it's not a time to celebrate. As the Earth Overshoot Day website explains, it marks the time when "we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year." That is the definition of unsustainable and means we're using up the biological capital that should be our children's legacy. We would require 1.7 Earths to meet our current annual demands sustainably.
It doesn't have to be this way. "Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future," said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that uses UN statistics and other sources to calculate when overshoot day falls every year. This year marks the earliest overshoot date yet.
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By Tomorrow, We Will Have Consumed More Resources So Far This Year Than the Planet Is Capable of Regenerating
By John R. Platt
That wasn't a problem until a few decades ago. Back in 1987 the "overshoot" date for Earth's resources was December 19, less than two weeks before the end of the year. That's not too bad, right?
By David Korten
Four days after President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) reported that Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on Aug. 2. Most Americans likely have no idea what that means.
The basic point is quite simple: From Jan. 1 to Aug. 2, the world's 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth's biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. During the remaining five months of 2017, our human consumption will be drawing down Earth's reserves of fresh water, fertile soils, forests and fisheries, and depleting its ability to regenerate these resources as well as sequester excess carbon released into the atmosphere.
Humanity will hit Earth Overshoot Day five days earlier than last year. This coming Monday, Aug. 8, we will have officially used up nature's budget for the entire year, according to the international research firm Global Footprint Network. Last year's overshoot day was on Aug. 13.
Deforestation by humans is a major factor in climate change. When forests are cleared, first, carbon absorption ceases and, second, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2 if the wood is burned. Flickr
"We continue to grow our ecological debt," Pascal Canfin, the French head of the World Wildlife Fund, told AFP in reaction to the news.
"From Monday, August 8, we will be living on credit because in eight months we would have consumed the natural capital that our planet can renew in a year."
This is the quickest rate that humans have outstripped what the planet produces in a year.
But as you can see in this tweet, this unfortunate milestone has happened every year since 1981 when Earth Overshoot Day was on Dec. 14. What's concerning is that we hit this point earlier almost every time.
Compared to the 1960s, humankind only spent three-quarters of Earth's annual resource allotment. However, by the 1970s, economic and population growth has driven Earth into this annual downward trend.
"We are emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our oceans and forests can absorb, and we deplete fisheries and harvest forests more quickly than they can reproduce and regrow," the Global Footprint Network said.
"Carbon emissions are the fastest growing contributor to ecological overshoot, with the carbon footprint now making up 60 percent of humanity's demand on nature, which we call its Ecological Footprint."
At this rate, the world needs the resources of 1.6 Earths in order to sustain demand for nature's resources, the Global Footprint Network calculated. It would take 4.8 Earths if everyone lived like people do in the U.S. and 5.4 Earths if everyone lived like Australia.
With a projected human population growth from 7.3 billion today to 11.2 billion by 2100, this will only put more strain on Earth's limited resources even more as more carbon is emitted and more land is cleared to provide food.
However, the Global Footprint Network noted that the goals set by the Paris climate agreement provides a ray of hope.
"Such a new way of living comes with many advantages, and making it happen takes effort," Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network, said. "The good news is that it is possible with current technology, and financially advantageous with overall benefits exceeding costs. It will stimulate emerging sectors like renewable energy, while reducing risks and costs associated with the impact of
climate change on inadequate infrastructure. The only resource we still need more of is political will."
"The Paris climate agreement is the strongest statement yet about the need to reduce the carbon Footprint drastically. Ultimately, collapse or stability is a choice," Wackernagel added. "We forcefully recommend nations, cities and individuals take swift, bold actions to make the Paris goals an attainable reality."
The organization pointed out that many countries have taken steps in the right direction to reduce their ecological footprint:
Fortunately, some countries are embracing the challenge. For instance, Costa Rica generated 97 percent of its electricity from renewable sources during the first three months of 2016. Portugal, Germany and Britain also demonstrated groundbreaking levels of renewable energy capability this year, when 100 percent of their electricity demand was met by renewables for several minutes or, in the case of Portugal, for several days. In China, meanwhile, the government has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens' meat consumption by 50 percent, which it calculates will lower the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from China's livestock industry by 1 billion tonnes by 2030.
The Global Footprint Network also encourages individuals to make a positive difference on the environment. The organization has launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #pledgefortheplanet where you can make planet-friendly pledges such as reducing waste, hosting vegetarian meal parties, lowering your energy consumption or more for special prizes.