It's Ecological Debt Day, time to think about what we're borrowing from future generations

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

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

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.