According to the Global Footprint Network, August 22nd was Earth Overshoot Day. The day “marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.” In other words, it represents a budget for the planet’s ecological resources. Unfortunately, we consistently exceed our budget.

After Earth Overshoot Day we are living off the Earth’s capital so to speak. We are liquidating our assets. 

And if that isn’t enough, we are at the same time generating waste faster than the planet can absorb it. Spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is perhaps the most egregious example.

To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day, the Network divides the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year) by humanity’s ecological footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplies by 365. The remainder of the year is overshoot.

It isn’t a perfect measurement. Robert B. Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University, points out that it doesn’t distinguish between sustainable and unsustainable uses of crop and grazing land, and doesn’t account for carbon sequestration in oceans and soil. Nonetheless, he agrees that the initiative is useful as a way of increasing “awareness about the impacts of human activities on ecosystems and the planet.” Despite its weaknesses, it effectively illustrates that we are sucking our planet dry.

When the group began this work in 2006, the day fell in October. It has crept steadily earlier although it lurched back three weeks this year because of Covid’s interruption of our rampant consumption. This is the first year it has not arrived earlier than it did the year before. 

Let us hope we don’t have to depend on pandemics to curb our reckless ways. To quote Laurel Hanscom, Global Footprint Network CEO, “One way or another, humanity will come into balance with the Earth. We don’t want it to be through disaster. We want it to be through intentional, designed efforts to make sure it doesn’t come at such a high and terrible human cost.” A good start would be to start substituting yardsticks such as Earth Overshoot Day to measure human progress, or regress, rather than the consumption-oriented GDP.

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