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Today humanity overshoots nature’s budget for 2011, population growth a key factor

Tuesday 27th September 2011 has been defined by Global Footprint Network as the day we are all overdrawn with nature.

Over the last nine months, we have demanded a level of services from nature equivalent to what the planet can provide from renewable resources for all of 2011. We maintain this deficit by depleting stocks of resources like fish and trees, and by accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean. If the world population continues to grow, this current deficit with nature can only continue to increase.

Earth Overshoot Day (based on a concept devised by UK-based new economics foundation), helps conceptualise the degree to which we are over-budget in our use of nature. While intended as an estimate more than an exact date, Earth Overshoot Day helps conceptualise the size of the gap between a sustainable level of ecological production and how much is currently required to support human activities globally. Calculations also take account of the planet’s rapidly growing population.

For the great majority of human history, we have used nature’s services – to build cities and roads, to provide food and create products,  and to absorb the CO₂ generated by human activities – at a rate that was well within the means of what nature could regenerate. But, sometime in the mid 1970s, we crossed the critical threshold when human demands on nature began outstripping what it could renewably produce, a situation known as ecological overshoot.

The fact is that we are using (or “spending” natural capital) faster than it can be replenished and the results of this ecological overspending are becoming more clear by the day. Climate change – a result of carbon being emitted faster than it can be reabsorbed by the forests and seas and the planet’s growing population – is the most obvious and arguably pressing results. But there are others as well: shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse and freshwater stress to name but a few.

Simon Ross, chief executive of the UK charity Population Matters, said, ‘It is a simple fact that we cannot continue living as we are, we must address key issues such as what is a sustainable population. Overshoot day, and 7 billion day on 31 October highlight the problems, it’s up to all of us to take action.’


Editors’ notes

How is Earth Overshoot Day calculated?

Earth Overshoot Day shows the day on which our total ecological footprint (measured in global hectares) is equal to the bio capacity (also measured in global hectares) that nature can regenerate in that year. For the rest of the year, we are accumulating debt by depleting our natural capital and letting waste accumulate.

[World bio capacity / world Ecological Footprint] x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day