Ecological Footprint

9 October: the day humanity starts eating the planet

New research reveals rising consumption of natural resources is pushing the world into ever earlier ecological debt, or ‘overshoot’
New calculations released today show that from now until the end of the year we will be living beyond our global environmental means. Research by the US-based Global Footprint Network in partnership with nef and Best Foot Forward reveals that as of today, humanity has used up what nature can renew this year and is now eating into its ‘ecological capital’.
Each year, the day that the global economy starts to operate with an ecological deficit is designated as ‘ecological debt day’ (known internationally as ‘overshoot day’). This marks the date that the planet’s environmental resource flow goes into the red and we begin operating on a non-existent environmental overdraft.
The fact that this year, ecological debt day falls on 9 October, only three quarters of the way through the year, means that we are living well beyond our environmental means. This leads, in effect, to a net depletion of the resources. From October 9 until the end of the year, humanity will be in ecological overshoot, building up ever greater ecological debt by consuming resources beyond the level that the planet’s ecosystems can replace.
This has been called, ‘the biggest issue you’ve never heard of,’ yet its causes and effects are simple and logical. If we eat more than we grow in any given year, we have to dip into reserves. If we cut trees faster than they grow back, then our forests become smaller than the year before. If we catch more fish than spawn each year, then there will be fewer fish in the sea.
The day that we begin living beyond our environmental means is creeping ever earlier in the year as human consumption grows:
- humanity first went into global ecological debt in 1987, with the first ecological debt day on 19 December that year;
- by 1995 it had jumped a month forward to 21 November;
- now, new estimates based on the latest available data indicate that in 2006, we run out of ecological resources today, Monday 9 October.

Andrew Simms, nef’s policy director says: “By living so far beyond our environmental means, and running up ecological debts we make two mistakes. First, we deny millions globally who already lack access to sufficient land, food and clean water the chance to meet their needs. Secondly, we put the planet’s life support mechanisms in peril.
Each year the Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint - its total demand on nature’s ecosystems - and compares it with global biocapacity - the ability of ecosystems to replace resources and absorb wastes. Following an innovation by Footprint partner nef (the new economics foundation) this has been translated into a calendar year and the Footprint accounts used to determine the exact date when, as a global community, we begin to run our annual ecological deficit.
Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director, Global Footprint Network says “Humanity is living off its ecological credit card and can only do this by liquidating the planet’s natural resources. While this can be done for a short while, overshoot ultimately leads to the depletion of resources, such as the forests, oceans and agricultural land upon which our economy depends.”
In other words, it now takes more than one year and three months for the Earth to regenerate what we use in a single year. The consequences of this ecological overshoot can be seen most seriously in our rapidly warming climate, but also in deforestation, the collapse of fisheries, species extinction, insecure energy supplies, water shortages and crop failure.
“The science of resource depletion is unequivocal. To deliver a sustainable future it is necessary to reduce demand, improve efficiency and switch to renewables. Calculating our global and personal resource depletion day is a resonant way of making planetary limits more transparent,” adds Craig Simmons, co-founder and director of Best Foot Forward another UK based footprint network partner.
Every year the ecological deficit contributes to an ever-accumulating global ecological debt. The price is often paid by those least responsible for the problem. The only way to balance the budget and end overshoot is to demand less of our planet.

We can however end overshoot by first keeping track of our resource use with tools like the Ecological Footprint, and then working to balance our ecological budget. We need to protect our ecosystems and improve their productivity, increase the efficiency of our resource use, and consume fewer resources per person where overconsumption is the norm. With each of these actions we can reduce our Ecological Footprint and decrease our ecological debt.

No comments: