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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

We just went through 2018's Earth resources in only 7 months

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Thursday, August 2, 2018, 1:06 PM - We were supposed to make it last until the end of December, but we just used up our entire allotment of Earth's resources for 2018 in only 7 months. It's Earth Overshoot Day 2018, and it's earlier this year than ever before.

Earth's ecosystem is remarkable. If managed properly, it could sustain human civilization indefinitely. Up to a certain point, nature is capable of replenishing its yearly 'budget' of food, clean water, forests, etc, so that, even as we consumed those resources, we would not reduce Earth's surplus of resources.

Unfortunately, we are not managing Earth's ecosystem properly. Instead, due to overpopulation, land-use, over-fishing, deforestation, pollution and climate change due to fossil fuel burning, and a host of other practices, we are in a pattern of 'ecological overspending'.

As of August 1, we have now exhausted Earth's total annual resource budget for 2018.

This is known as 'Earth Overshoot Day', and it represents the day of the year where we have moved past consuming just the resources Earth can produce in that year, to pick away at more of the surplus Earth has been able to build up over time.

With 5 months to go before the end of the year, having Earth Overshoot Day on August 1 means that we're effectively consuming 1.7 Earths.

"We are using the Earth’s future resources to operate in the present and digging ourselves deeper into ecological debt," Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, said in a United Nations Climate Change press release on Tuesday.

"Our economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet," Wackernagel added. "We are using the Earth’s future resources to operate in the present and digging ourselves deeper into ecological debt. It's time to end this ecological Ponzi scheme and leverage our creativity and ingenuity to create a prosperous future free of fossil fuels and planetary destruction."

This graph shows how Earth Overshoot Day has shifted over the past 49 years. Credit: Global Footprint Network

It may seem as though Earth has plenty of resources to go through, seeing that we've been digging into that surplus for nearly five decades now, but this is a pattern that cannot be sustained.

Not only are we putting more stress on the ecosystem via our increasing population, and our subsequently increasing resource consumption, but reducing nature's surplus means that it also produces less and less each year.

Go back 50 years, and we see that resources and consumption were far more balanced. From 1973 onward, though, the date has been creeping unsteady back through the calendar. It's gotten to the point where, 20 years ago, Earth Overshoot Day was at the beginning of October, and during the past 8 years, it has consistently been in early August.

For 2018 it's earlier than ever, falling on August 1 - a day earlier than in 2017, and earlier than ever before.

"As we mark Earth Overshoot Day, today may seem no different from yesterday - you still have the same food in your refrigerator," said Wackernagel. "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."


Different nations around the world consume resources at different rates, of course. It's only when you add up everyone's contributions, that we reach 

Canada has abundant resources, and we may see ourselves as reasonably responsible consumers, but unfortunately, on average, that's just not the case.

If the entire world consumed at the same rate as the average Canadian, it wouldn't have taken us 7 months to reach Earth Overshoot Day 2018. We would have used up Earth's entire 2018 supply resources by March 18.

This graphic plots Earth Overshoot Day based on the consumption practices of the average citizen of nations around the world. Look to the top right of the graphic to find both Canada and the United States, with Earth Overshoot Days in mid-March. Credit: Global Footprint Network


As seen in the Earth Overshoot Day 1969-2018 graph, above, this date doesn't necessarily keep retreating backwards on the calendar, year to year. Some years, it actually advances by one or more days, due to short-term shifts in consumer patterns, pollution emissions, and the response of nature to weather and climate change.

There are also ways that we can consciously move the date farther along the calendar, and the Global Footprint Network names four key solutions to this resource problem:

• Cities: If we reduce driving by 50% around the world and replace one-third of car miles with public transportation and the rest by walking and biking, we can #MoveTheDate of Overshoot Day back 12 days.
• Energy: Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would #MoveTheDate 93 days.
• Food: If everyone in the world cut food waste in half, reduced the Footprint intensity of their diets, and consumed world-average calories, we would #MoveTheDate 38 days.
• Population: If every other family in the world had one less child, we would move Overshoot Day 30 days by 2050.

For more information, check out the Earth Overshoot Day website, follow the hashtag #MoveTheDate on social media, and watch Global Footprint Network's August 1 Facebook live broadcast, embedded below:

Sources: UNFCCC | Global Footprint Network

Teaser image courtesy NASA EPIC Team.

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