Our global ecological footprints have ‘grown larger’

3 Agustus 2019

We’re barely over halfway through the year, but we’ve already used up the planet’s resources for 2019. Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29 this year.

That is several days earlier this year than last year, according to experts associated with the theoretical event after which we start using up resources beyond the planet’s ability to regenerate them. This means we would need nearly two Earth-sized planets to support current global consumption habits.

The Global Footprint Network, which has been behind the annual Earth Overshoot Day campaign since 2006, bases its calculations of our collective ecological footprint by estimating the amount of resources we consume in a year. It tallies up our use of land, freshwater, forests and fish stocks. Many of these resources are not renewable in the sense that once they are gone, they are gone forever, or at least for the foreseeable future.

Another factor is the amount of CO2 we release into the atmosphere from our activities in any given year. Our emissions this year have been on the rise, which has been contributing to a further buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“We have only got one Earth,” stresses Mathis Wackernagel, founder of Global Footprint Network. By consuming planetary resources at a rate beyond sustainable levels, we are consuming those resources 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate them. “This is akin to using 1.75 Earths,” his organization explains.

“Overshoot is possible because we are depleting our natural capital – which compromises humanity’s future resource security,” it adds. “The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, or the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter leads to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events.”

Rich nations are especially profligate, consuming resources far faster than poor ones. The United States, Canada, Australia and several European nations used up their resources by the end of March, whereas countries such as Cuba, Ecuador and Iraq do not do that until December when the year is nearly out.

Critics, however, are questioning the soundness of the methodology behind such calculations. In a 2013 study a team of experts note that calculating ecological footprints isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem.

Citing one example, a prominent environmentalist argues that “Different forests absorb carbon dioxide at different rates over time. But the Ecological Footprint arbitrarily chooses a single number to represent the rate of carbon uptake for all forests around the world for all time.”

Still, Earth Overshoot Day can serve as a useful reminder that we’ll need to consume limited resources with greater care. Felling forests as if there was no tomorrow is hardly a judicious approach. Nor is driving a myriad of species to the brink of extinction on land and in sea alike to feed appetites for exotic animals and their parts.

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