Earth goes into ecological debt

Earth just ‘celebrated’ Earth Overshoot Day, the date that our global Ecological Footprint exceeds our planet’s annual budget. It took less than eight months for the world’s population to use up nature’s budget for the year. Low-income countries suffer most from the resulting resource constraints.

Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, calls global overshoot “a defining challenge of the 21st century.” The Global Footprint Network is an international sustainability think thank that tracks humanity’s demand on the planet against nature’s biocapacity. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s Footprint in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

In 1961, humanity used around three-quarters of the Earth’s available ecological resources and most countries had so-called biocapacity reserves. By the early 1970s, economic and demographic growth increased humanity’s Footprint beyond what the planet could renewable produce. Today, 86 per cent of the world’s population live in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew.

According to the Global Footprint Network, today’s most vulnerable countries – home to 72 per cent of the world’s population including two billion people who are unable to meet even their most basic needs – are those that struggle with both low income and biocapacity deficits.

15 per cent of the world’s population live in countries that run biocapacity deficits, but their high income can mitigate the resource pressures. These are most countries in the western world. The remaining 14 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with more biocapacity than Footprint, including Australia and Brazil. In those countries, the challenge is to treat natural assets as sources of wealth to be preserved for future generations and not sold in the short-term to the highest bidder.


Photo credit: “Earth Eastern Hemisphere” by NASA – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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