Today, August 22, is Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We are now operating in overdraft. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Throughout most of history, humanity has used nature’s resources to build cities and roads, to provide food and create products, and to absorb our carbon dioxide at a rate that was well within Earth’s budget. But in the mid-1970’s, we crossed a critical threshold: Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce.
The fact that we are using, or “spending,” our natural capital faster than it can replenish is similar to having expenditures that continuously exceed income. In planetary terms, the costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. Climate change—a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans—is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others—shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few. The environmental and financial crises we are experiencing are symptoms of looming catastrophe. Humanity is simply using more than what the planet can provide.
Earth Overshoot Day is an estimate, not an exact date. It’s not possible to determine with 100 percent accuracy the day we bust our ecological budget. Adjustments of the date that we go into overshoot are due to revised calculations, not ecological advances on the part of humanity. The when is less important than the what.
Four paragraphs from the Global Footprint Network’s article, 'August 22 is Earth Overshoot Day'. You can read and learn more here, including about your own ecological footprint and responses to this predicament including examples of cities, countries, and businesses that are transitioning to ‘one planet living’. The BedZed neighbourhood in the UK is one well known example.
- Jeffrey Sachs: ‘A Global Solutions Network’ (Project Syndicate)
- Tools for Change: ‘Smart Environmental Policy with Full-Cost Pricing’ (Video)
- ‘The Real Barriers to Sustainability’ (UBC Sustainability Initiative)
- Study: ‘Overcoming systemic roadblocks to sustainability: The evolutionary redesign of worldviews, institutions, and technologies’ (PDF)
(Infographic source: Global Footprint Network)