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The Day We Go Into Ecological Debt Is...

August 13 is Earth Overshoot Day: Here’s what it means and how to not let it get you down.

August 13, 2015

Imagine planet Earth is a bank from which we withdraw ecological resources for short-term use. Then imagine that we’ve used up all the currency in our account, and it won’t be replenished until January 1. So until more funds become available, we buy on credit through deforestation, water use,  soil erosion, and, especially, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And Mother Nature does not offer overdraft protection. 

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This is the concept behind Earth Overshoot Day, the day that international sustainability think-tank The Global Footprint Network calculates we’ve used up all the resources our ecosystem can replenish within a 12-month period. In order to come up with this number, the planet’s biocapacity (in global hectares) is divided by humanity’s ecological footprint, or demand on the ecosystem, for 2015. The ratio is then multiplied by 365 to come up with the calendar day we go into debt. 

The most important element of the equation is biocapacity: all biologically productive land and water that can regenerate resources and absorb human waste—an area that’s shrinking every year. Of course, the measure of biocapacity, which is based on data from the United Nations and other scientific research, can only be approximated. Earth Overshoot Day is a close estimate, not an exact calendar date, that is meant to increase awareness of a fast-approaching ecological collapse if we don’t start living within our means. 

OK, so Earth Overshoot Day isn’t exactly a fun or uplifting holiday. In fact, the Global Footprint Network likes to celebrate it by sharing some pretty depressing statistics. We added puppies to help take the edge off:

1. We’ve been in global overshoot since the 1970s. And it’s just getting bigger and bigger—like the national debt, except way more serious. 

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2. If we keep eating up resources at our current rate, the Global Footprint Network predicts it will take the equivalent of two planets to support us by 2030. 



3. Fifteen years ago, Earth Overshoot Day was in early October.


4. When you calculate your personal carbon footprint with this interactive tool, you can see how many planet Earths would be needed to sustain all of humanity if everyone in the world had the same lifestyle as you. Try not to cry at the results.  

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5. But there’s some good news, too! If we approve and stick to the proposed agreement at the Paris Climate Change Conference this December (the agreement calls for 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030), Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back to at least September 16 that year.