Road cutting through a forest

As you read this, humankind has used up nature’s budget for the year.

Today, 8 August, is Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the point our annual demand on nature’s resources exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that year.

For example, we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our oceans and forests can absorb, and we deplete fisheries and harvest forests more quickly than they can reproduce and regrow.

And this year, the day has come earlier than it has ever done before.

As population and consumption have increased, almost every year since 1971 has seen the day fall earlier in the year.

Fifteen years ago the day fell in late September. Last year, it fell on August 13.

Updated methodology however, shows the rate of movement earlier each year has slowed, with only one day difference from last year.

Just as a bank statement tracks your income and outgoings, researchers at Global Footprint Network (GFN) have measured our demand for and ecosystems’ supply of resources and services, in order to calculate when we’ve overshot the Earth’s annual natural budget.

A country’s supply includes its productive land and sea, including forests, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land.

GFN have calculated that if, for example, everyone in the world lived like the UK we would need another two planets to support us through to the end of the year.

Their research finds that the UK has an ecological deficit of 280 percent, and sits 131st in a list of 151 countries when comparing their consumption of natural resources with their capacity to supply them.

Political Will

Mathis Wackernagel, Global Footprint Network’s chief executive, suggests one answer is a new way of living.

The good news is that it is possible with current technology, and financially advantageous with overall benefits exceeding costs. It will stimulate emerging sectors like renewable energy, while reducing risks and costs associated with the impact of climate change on inadequate infrastructure.

The only resource we still need more of is political will.”

Carbon emissions are the fastest growing contributor to our ecological overshoot, GFN explains, making up 60 percent of humanity’s demand on nature.

The Paris climate agreement is the strongest statement yet about the need to reduce the carbon footprint drastically. Ultimately, collapse or stability is a choice,” said Wackernagel. “We forcefully recommend nations, cities and individuals take swift, bold actions to make the Paris goals an attainable reality.”

Some countries like Costa Rica, are embracing the challenge, generating 97 percent of its electricity from renewable sources during the first three months of 2016.

The UK is making progress in the right direction as this year saw more electricity generated from solar power than coal in both May and July for the first time.

And China for example has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50 percent, which it calculates will lower the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from China’s livestock industry by 1 billion tonnes by 2030.

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr