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August 21st marks an unfortunate milestone: the day in which we exhaust our ecological budget for the year. Once we pass this Earth Overshoot Day, also known as “Ecological Debt Day”, humanity will have demanded all the ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food – that nature can provide this year. From that point until the end of the year, we meet our ecological demand by liquidating resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

Every year, Global Footprint Network calculates nature's supply in the form of biocapacity, the amount of resources the planet generates, and compares that to human demand: the amount it takes to produce all the living resources we consume and absorb our carbon dioxide emissions. Earth Overshoot Day, a concept devised by U.K.-based new economics foundation, marks the day when demand on ecological services begins to exceed the renewable supply.

What is Overshoot?

For most of human history, humanity has been able to live off of nature's interest - consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year. But approximately three decades ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for ecological services began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them. This gap between demand and supply, known as ecological overshoot, has grown steadily each year. Global Footprint Network's most recent data show that it takes one year and five months to generate the ecological services (production of resources and absorption of CO2) that humanity requires in one year.

Ecological Debt Day Earth Overshoot Day 1

The Cost of Ecological Overspending

Of course, we only have one Earth. The fact that we are using (or “spending” natural capital) faster than it can replenish is similar to having expenditures that continually exceed income. In planetary terms, the results of our ecological overspending are becoming more clear by the day. Climate change – a result of carbon being emitted faster than it can be reabsorbed by the forests and seas – is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others as well: shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse and freshwater stress to name a few.

How is Earth Overshoot Day Calculated?

Put simply, Earth Overshoot Day shows the day on which our total Ecological Footprint (measured in global hectares) is equal to the biocapacity (also measured in global hectares) that nature can regenerate in that year. For the rest of the year, we are accumulating debt by depleting our natural capital and letting waste accumulate.

[ world biocapacity / world Ecological Footprint ] x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day Day

The day of the year on which humanity enters into overshoot and begins adding to our ecological debt is calculated by calculating the ratio of global available biocapacity to global Ecological Footprint and multiplying by 365. From this, we find the number of days of demand that the biosphere could supply, and the number of days we operate in overshoot.

Unless we have a radical intervention, we are headed for a collision course of epic proportions that can have only one of two results -- the increasing scarcity (and costs) of resources resulting in a breakdown of the economic system and an end to the cycle of ever-expanding consumption. Or worse, the complete collapse of the complex natural systems that actually met all of our annual resource needs. 1986 was the year we first went into overshoot. It was a relatively modest overshoot.. a couple of days perhaps. But every year subsequently that Earth Overshoot Day has crept forward an average of 2-5 days each year (with an explosive increase in the mid 90's to mid 00's).

Ecological Debt Day Earth Overshoot Day 2

Currently the human population on earth requires about 1,4 planet's worth of resources. But the demand which pushes us into overshoot is not evenly distributed. The United States is one of the biggest culprits, consuming close to what would be 4 planets worth of resources (if everyone in the world consumed as much as the US). Finnish people use about 1,5 planets.

What can we do?

Well for starters we need to wake up to the facts. Global warming is not the only problem we have to worry about. Though it is important, the geopolitical and economic repercussions of a world in which essential resources like water and food are unavailable, could very well be worse than monster hurricanes. Post wake-up, all of us really need to go on a low-carbon diet. If you want to see what your own environmental footprint is you can take the Footprint quiz. Sorry to screw up your weekend again folks.

Via Global Footprint Network.

Outi Les Pyy

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  1. Awesome post Outi. Heart-breaking, of course; I mean awesome of you to post about this. Ja puhutaan suomea kun nahdaan :)

  2. Ugh, that quiz is absolutely awful. 3.3 planets for someone who recycles, hardly uses any energy, eats for the most part locally (and mainly vegetarian), and doesn't drive a lot? Of course, traveling is what gets me. Someone needs to make eco jet fuel (or just better eco fuel in general).

    It would be nice if the UN did something and made a law that new buildings have to be "green".. and if countries gave people tax breaks for installing solar panels on their houses. Of course, electric companies make lots of money and people are for those that can't afford to build a "green" house of our own, we're stuck with whatever apartment building we can afford.

    It figures the US would use a lot of energy.. most people in America care more about their SUV's, big screen TVs, and McMansions than the environment.

    I would be interested to see the amount of energy China uses, since EVERYTHING is made in China... but of course since they're a communist country we don't have access to that information.

    Great and interesting post oh your part though!
    I've always loved your blog because of the whole eco-friendly/DIY/recycle aspect. I think more people should be encouraged to DIY instead of buying fast fashion (which uses up needless energy and is poorly made and therefore not green).

  3. heyyy, thanks for sharing :) i think more people need to see this :)


  4. A great post! Would've otherwise forgotten about the whole Earth Overshoot Day (How one can forget their own planet is another thing... sad sad sad)

  5. This is what I do to reduce my carbon footprint:
    - I do not eat meat. The production of meat is very energy and recourse consuming foodtype. The type of food you eat is much more important than people realize. It is the fastest and easiest way to lower your footprint. Food should also be taken in better consideration in carb-footprint quizzes.
    - I do not own a car, I commute.
    - I favor locally produced goods.
    - keep my appartment in a cool 21 degrees to save energy. If I get cold, I´ll wear woollen socks and a cardi.

    What I should do better:
    - stop smoking. No excuse for that...
    - have an energy waste recycle bin brought to my appartment building.