31.07.2018 |

Humanity has already exhausted Earth’s natural resources for 2018

Humanity has already used up nature’s budget for the entire year (Photo: CC0)

August 1 marks Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up the resources nature can regenerate in a year, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation. And the speed at which we consume these natural resources is increasing – August 1 is the earliest date ever recorded since the world first went into overshoot in the 1970s. To maintain this level of resource consumption, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths. Earth Overshoot Day is calculated each year by contrasting the world’s demand on nature (ecological footprint), including demand for food, timber, fibres (cotton) and accommodation of infrastructure, with the planet’s ability to replenish resources and absorb waste, including carbon dioxide emissions. The date has moved up on the calendar from late September in 1997, showing that humanity is exhausting nature’s resource budget faster than ever. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations.

The costs of this ecological overspending include deforestation, collapsing fisheries, 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. These threats can force many people to migrate to cities or other countries. “As we mark Earth Overshoot Day, today may seem no different from yesterday – you still have the same food in your refrigerator,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network. “But fires are raging in the Western United States. On the other side of the world, residents in Cape Town have had to slash water consumption in half since 2015. These are consequences of busting the ecological budget of our one and only planet.” According to the think tank, the estimated level of resources and ecosystem services required to support human activities today is 1.7 Earths. If everyone lived the way US citizens do, it would take 5 Earths to sustain global consumption. If the entire world followed Australia’s example, it would take 4.1 Earths. South Korea and Russia are using 3.5 and 3.3 Earths respectively, followed by Germany which is using nature 3 times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. India only needs the equivalent of 0.7 planets.

But the Global Footprint Network is also confident that the current trends can be reversed. They have identified four solution areas with the most potential to address ecological overshoot: cities, energy, food and population. If we reduced driving by 50% around the world and replaced one-third of car miles with public transportation and the rest by walking and biking, we could move Earth Overshoot Day back 12 days. Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would get us from consuming the resources of 1.7 Earths down to 1.2 Earths. This corresponds to moving the date by 93 days, or about three months. Another important area is food: If everyone in the world cut food waste in half, reduced the footprint intensity of their diets by switching from industrial animal-based to local, vegetable-based diets and consumed world-average calories, the date could be moved back 38 days. “The past does not necessarily determine our future. Our current choices do. Through wise, forward-looking decisions, we can turn around natural resource consumption trends while improving the quality of life for all people,” Global Footprint Network says on its website. (ab)

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