2018 Earth Overshoot Day: We've just exhausted a year’s worth of the planet's resources

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
August 02, 2018, 10:50:32 AM EDT

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Humans have used up more of Earth’s resources than it can regenerate within one year as of Aug. 1, 2018, according to the Global Footprint Network. This year's Earth Overshoot Day is the earliest ever.

Last year’s Earth Overshoot Day fell on Aug. 2. The date, which was previously known as Ecological Debt Day, has occurred steadily earlier since 1971. That year, the date fell on Dec. 21.

“We are using 1.7 Earths,” according to the Global Footprint Network’s website. “We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ecosystems can absorb.”

This means it now takes the planet about a year and a half to regenerate the natural resources that humans use in a year, according to the Network.

Earth - Pexels image

“With 7.5 billion people in the world, our needs put enormous pressure on the planet and the wildlife that we share it with,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population and Sustainability program.

In countries like the United States, a rampant over-consumption is eating up our resources faster than the planet can replenish them, and the debt to the planet is being paid through climate change, drought and wildlife extinction, Feldstein added.

“The resource demand of humanity overall and what Earth is able to renew doesn’t fluctuate that dramatically,” Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network and co-creator of the Ecological Footprint, told AccuWeather.

Infographic - Sustainability

“It’s a very slow-moving issue with high inertia, which also means we need to address it early enough to see that we’re off track.”

Wackernagel likened the rate at which we’re using Earth’s resources to the difference between a speedboat and a supertanker.

“You can turn the speedboat around on a dime, but with a supertanker, you need to think ahead much more,” he said. “Our resource demand is more similar to a supertanker – very big.”

Each year, the Global Footprint Network aims to raise awareness about global ecological overshoot, which is the world’s ecological deficit, through its Earth Overshoot Day campaign.

“If you say that people are becoming more abundant and resources are getting less abundant, the relative significance in the overall equation of resources over labor will become more important,” Wackernagel said. “So, labor will get cheaper and resources will get more expensive. Are you ready for that?”

“We want to help people avoid being surprised so they can make good choices for their own planning,” Wackernagel added. “Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether it’s relevant or not.”

According to the Global Footprint Network, by 2020, human demand on the planet’s ecosystems will likely exceed what nature is able to regenerate by 75 percent.

“Resources are not that different from money budgets; it’s about our choices,” Wackernagel said. “We can react to it, or we can choose not to react to it; there are different consequences.”

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The problem has arisen from the fact that many countries’ ecological footprints exceed their biocapacities, meaning that they now run on an ecological deficit.

In 2017, Ecological Deficit Day in the U.S. fell on June 10, according the Global Footprint Network.

“Earth Overshoot Day really draws attention to the stress that we’re putting on the planet and highlights the ways that we can start to bring our footprints back into balance,” Feldstein said.

“We need to recognize that we can’t keep expecting infinite growth on a finite planet,” she said. “By taking actions like choosing plant-based foods; eating less meat and dairy; shifting to renewable, wildlife-friendly energy; and by making sure that everybody has the tools to choose if and when they want to grow their families, we can start to move the date.”

The Global Footprint Network has stated that the damage can be reversed, and that pushing the date back about five days annually would get the Earth out of overshoot by 2050.

In other words, the global population would return to using the resources of only one planet by that time.

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