29.07.2019 |

Humanity has already exhausted Earth’s natural resources for 2019

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

July 29th marks Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up all the resources nature can sustainably supply in a year, according to data from the Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability organization. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. And the speed at which we exhaust the planet’s resource budget is increasing – this year’s overshoot day is the earliest date ever recorded since the world first went into global overshoot in the 1970s. It is two months earlier than it was 20 years ago. To maintain current levels of consumption, we would need the equivalent of 1.75 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.

Overshooting can only be temporary because we are depleting our natural capital, compromising humanity’s future resource security, the organisation warns in a press release. The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, or the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter leads to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events. “We have only got one Earth – this is the ultimately defining context for human existence. We can’t use 1.75 without destructive consequences,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-inventor of Ecological Footprint accounting and founder of Global Footprint Network. He argues that humanity will eventually have to operate within the Earth’s limited resource budget. According to the think tank, the estimated level of resources and ecosystem services required to support human activities today is 1.75 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. Russia and Germany are using 3.2 and 3.0 Earths respectively, using nature three times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. India only needs the equivalent of 0.7 planets.

But the Global Footprint Network also believes that living within the means of our planet is possible and that the current trends can be reversed. The organisation has identified five major areas which offer significant opportunities to address ecological overshoot and improve sustainability: cities, energy, food, planet and population. For instance, cutting CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning by 50% would move Earth Overshoot Day back 93 days. Moving the date back 5 days each year would allow humanity to reach one-planet compatibility before 2050. “We know what the solutions are so it’s time to be hopeful and bold and grab the opportunity to make a positive difference while we still can,” said Aaron Kiely, climate campaigner at the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth. “We have to think again about how we consume. Large-scale political intervention is desperately needed, but as individuals there’s things we can do: stop buying what we just don’t need, make things last, insulate our homes, and collectively stop digging ourselves into ecological debt.” (ab)

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