We’ve Consumed More Than the Earth Can Produce This Year


Thursday, August 13, is Earth Overshoot Day, when resource use is expected to outstrip the capacity for production—and it’s getting earlier every year.


Biocapacity Deficits and Reserves

Biological capacity, or biocapacity, is a way to measure an area’s ability to produce biological materials necessary for life, such as food, and to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions. Deficits and reserves are determined by measuring an area’s capacity against its ecological footprint—the area required to support an ecosystem’s population.

It may feel like Christmas comes earlier each year, but there’s a less joyful day that really is moving closer on the calendar.

Earth Overshoot Day is the day when—according to estimates—the total combined consumption of all human activity on Earth in a year overtakes the planet’s ability to generate those resources for that year.

How is it measured?

« It’s quite simple,” says Dr. Mathis Wackernagel of the think tank Global Footprint Network. “We look at all the resource demands of humanity that compete for space, like food, fiber, timber, et cetera, then we look at how much area is needed to provide those services and how much productive surface is available. »

Here’s his bottom line metaphor. Earth Overshoot Day is like the day you spend more than your salary for a year, only you are all humans and your salary is Earth’s biocapacity.

Ideally, Overshoot Day would come after December 31. It wasn’t too far off in 1970, when it occurred on December 23. But Overshoot Day creep has kicked in ever since. August 13 is the earliest yet—four days ahead of last year’s previous record.

Earth Overshoot Day

« Earth overshoot day » marks the day when that year’s demand for natural resources exceeds Earth’s ability to produce them.

Overshoot Day doesn’t mean we’ve exhausted our resources for the year. To extend Wackernagel’s metaphor, we’re essentially dipping into savings by using capacity that hasn’t been tapped.

So what happens when we do break open the piggybank? Wackernagel cites struggling fisheries, accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, soil erosion and deforestation as some of the consequences.

It’s possible to look at how every country has used its capacity. The United States and China, for instance, overshoot earlier than many other nations, while much of South America has surplus to spare.


Read on the article on News.NationalGeographic.com

Photo credits: © Pixabay

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