August 19th was Earth Overshoot Day 2014, the approximate date humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what the Earth can renew this year. In less than 8 months, we demanded an amount of ecological resources and services equivalent to what Earth can regenerate for all of 2014. On Earth Overshoot Day, humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year. For the rest of the year, we are drawing down our ecological assets.
Ecological deficit spending is made possible by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. Currently, the carbon Footprint is the largest portion of humanity’s Footprint — a result of emitting greenhouse gases faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans — and contributes significantly to humanity’s ecological overspending.
According to Global Footprint Network’s calculations, it would take more than 1.5 Earths to provide the bio-capacity needed to support humanity’s current Ecological Footprint. Moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the bio-capacity of three planets well before mid-century. This may be physically unfeasible. Today, 86 percent of the world population lives in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. These “ecological debtor” countries either deplete their own ecological resources or get them from elsewhere. Were Japan’s residents to consume ecological resources and services solely from within their country’s borders, they would demand 7 Japans. In other words, Japan’s Footprint is 7 times larger than its bio-capacity. Similarly, it would take 4.3 Switzerlands to support Switzerland and 2.7 Egypts to support Egypt.
Not all countries demand more than their ecosystems can provide, but even the reserves of such “ecological creditor” nations like Brazil, Indonesia, and Sweden are shrinking over time. For these countries, the main challenge is to treat their natural assets as ever-more significant sources of wealth to be preserved and nurtured over the long term, as opposed to riches to be squandered for short-term profits.