OAKLAND, Calif. – On August 1, humanity will have used nature’s resource budget for the entire year, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that has pioneered the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric. The Ecological Footprint adds up all of people’s competing demands for productive areas, including for food, timber, fibers, carbon sequestration, and accommodation of infrastructure. Currently, carbon emissions make up 60 percent of humanity’s Ecological Footprint.
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate in that year. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from late September in 1997 to August 1st this year, the earliest date since the world first went into overshoot in the early 1970s. In other words, humanity is currently using nature 1.7 times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. This is akin to using 1.7 Earths.
The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident around the world, in the form of deforestation; , fresh-water scarcity; soil erosion; biodiversity loss;, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to climate change and more severe droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes.
“Our current economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and co-founder of Global Footprint Network. “We are borrowing the Earth’s future resources to operate our economies in the present. Like any Ponzi scheme, this works for some time. But as nations, companies, or households dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt, they eventually fall apart.”
“It’s time to end this ecological Ponzi scheme by design, not by disaster. It’s time to #MoveTheDate.” Wackernagel added. “This is critical if humanity is to thrive.”
#MoveTheDate toward sustainability
We can reverse the trend. If we moved back Earth Overshoot Day by 5 days every year, we would return to using the resources of less than one planet by 2050. Ahead of Earth Overshoot Day 2018, Global Footprint Network highlights opportunities for action that are available today and estimates their impact on the date of Earth Overshoot Day. For instance, replacing 50% of meat consumption with a vegetarian diet would move the date of Overshoot Day by 5 days; reducing the carbon component of the global Ecological Footprint by 50% would move the date of Overshoot Day by 93 days.
Researchers from Global Footprint Network and Schneider Electric estimated how much current off-the-shelf, commercial technologies for buildings, industrial processes and electricity production alone could move the Earth Overshoot Day. They concluded that such technology could move the date at least 21 days, without any loss in productivity or comfort. This is a conservative estimate as it is based on Schneider Electric’s offerings – and additional technologies may exist to move the date even further.
Elements of the 2018 campaign include:
- The Ecological Footprint Calculator (www.footprintcalculator.org) is now available in English, French, Italian and Spanish. It allows users to calculate their own Ecological Footprint and personal Earth Overshoot Day. The calculator has been used by more than 13 million people.
- For the third year in a row, Global Footprint Network and its partners invite members of the public to explore “Steps to #MoveTheDate” that support the global movement to get humanity out of ecological overshoot.
- Growing the movement towards systemic change requires peer-to-peer engagement as well as mobilizing bigger numbers, so that institutions, from businesses to governments, address ecological overshoot. The campaign includes a call to multiply conversations with friends and family; organize neighborhood gatherings to get people excited about the possibility of thriving within the means of our planet; reach out to elected officials; or launch workplace programs to show colleagues what Footprint thinking can do for them and how it relates to their own interests.
“At Global Footprint Network, we believe that overusing Earth’s ecosystems is one of the largest challenges facing humanity today, with climate change being a big portion of that challenge,” concluded Wackernagel. “Transforming our economies to address this challenge is no easy task. But just as humanity has tapped creativity and ingenuity in the past, we can do so again to create a prosperous future free of fossil fuels and planetary destruction.”