Earth Overshoot Day: Humanity has exhausted all of 2017’s natural resources

Humanity has already used up its entire annual budget of planetary resources such as water, soil and clean air on the earliest day of the year since the Earth first went into "overshoot" in the early 1970s, according to research organisation Global Footprint Network.

Today (2 August) marks Earth Overshoot Day, the date when mankind’s annual demand on nature exceeds what can be regenerated in a year. As global megatrends such as population growth and climate change have increased, Earth Overshoot Day has moved from late September in 1997 to early August 20 years later.

According to Global Footprint Network, which is raising awareness of Overshoot Day, humanity is currently consuming or using nature at a rate 1.7 times faster than natural ecosystems can regenerate.

Stress on natural resources has been exacerbated by growing sustainability issues such as deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, fresh-water scarcity and the build-up of carbon emissions, researchers suggest.

Although this message is bleak, Global Footprint Network claims that moving Earth Overshoot Day back by just 4.5 days every year would return humanity to using the resource of one planet, rather than 1.7, by 2050.

“Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not, said Global Footprint Network’s chief executive Mathis Wackernagel. “Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future.

“Ultimately, moving back the date of Earth Overshoot Day on the calendar is the name of the game.”

Time is of the essence

To mark Earth Overshoot Day, Global Footprint Network has launched a new online ‘Ecological Footprint Calculator’, which enables users to figure out their own personal Earth Overshoot Day based on eating, living and travel habits.

Dependence and overconsumption of natural resources varies from nation to nation, according to the Network. For instance, if the world consumed at the rate of India, humanity would only use 60% of the world’s natural resources. Wheras for nations like the UK, the budget is three times what is available.

Global Footprint Network is working to spread messages on viable solutions identified to reverse Earth Overshoot Day. Specifically, the organisation says cutting food waste globally by 50% would move the date by 11 days, while reducing the carbon components of the global ecological footprint would move the date back a further 89 days.

Solutions identified by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and research coalition Project Drawdown – which has devised the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming – are now available in an open-data platform from Global Footprint Network. Activist Paul Hawken, who founded Project Drawdown, discusses the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming in a recent episode of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast.

So, Earth Overshoot Day has advanced by six days since 2016 and, in the wake of rising megatrends, the need to reduce our impact on the environment is becoming more crucial by the day.

In fact, Earth Overshoot Day comes in the same week that new research has found that there is now just a 5% chance that the Earth will avoid global warming of more than 2C come the end of the century and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, further highlighting the urgent need for rapid decarbonisation.

Matt Mace

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