Tuesday, August 20 marks an unnerving annual milestone: "Earth Overshoot Day" -- when humanity has used up all of the natural resources and waste absorption that the Earth can provide in a year, meaning that human consumption for the remaining 4.5 months of 2013 is borrowed from future generations.
"It is like having a bank account," Juan Carlos Morales of the independent think tank Global Footprint Network explained. "If you don't have money available, you have to take out credit. We are depleting resources faster than Earth can regenerate."
The concept, originally developed by the New Economics Foundation and carried forward by the Global Footprint Network, reveals a disturbing trend. "Earth Overshoot Day," also called "Ecological Debt Day," is arriving earlier each year since it was first calculated in 1987, roughly three days earlier each year since 2011. Global Footprints says this trend is unequivocal, since "human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce" in the mid-1970s.
"We are now operating in overdraft," reads a Global Footprints statement. "For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
Global Footprints calculates the day of overdraft based on analysis of consumption and production patterns of each country. "Every scientific model used to account for human demand and nature's supply shows a consistent trend: We are well over budget, and that debt is compounding," reads an organizational statement. "It is an ecological debt, and the interest we are paying on that mounting debt -- food shortages, soil erosion, and the build-up of CO₂ in our atmosphere -- comes with devastating human and monetary costs."
Not all countries borrow equally, with Europe, North America, and Qatar consuming at notably destructive paces. According to Global Footprints, if everyone in the world consumed on par with the United States, it would take four Earths to sustain the international population.
"Regardless of consumption patterns, it is still a global problem that affects everyone," explains Morales. "We all have responsibility to address it."
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer with Common Dreams, where this article first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Michael Cote