Resource overdraft: Planet Earth crosses into ecological red

Humanity currently demands 1.6 Earth's worth of resources from the planet each year.

Ricardo Arduengo/AP
Large quantities of seaweed lays ashore at the 'Playa Los Machos' beach, in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, Aug. 8, 2015.

Planet Earth crossed into the ecological red Friday.

Thursday marked Earth Overshoot Day – the day when the world's population officially exhausts all the natural resources the Earth can generate in a single year, as defined by the sustainability think tank, Global Footprint Network.

What exactly does that mean for humanity, and more importantly, the environment? 

Overshoot depletes the Earth of its natural capital and catalyzes a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, environmentalists say.

That buildup drastically harms the environment through deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss, according to GFN.

All of these degenerative conditions lead to excessive ecological spending, and Overshoot Day serves as a reminder that the global population needs to implement greener solutions before natural resources drop to dangerous levels.

GFN estimates that the current population demands the resources of 1.6 Earths.

The UN provided the first reliable statistics on the matter in 1961. Since then, humanity's demand for resources has quickly exceeded the amount nature could provide, with the planet reaching global overshoot in the early 1970s. 

In 2000, Earth Overshoot Day landed in October. It's occurrence in August this year reflects the rapidly expanding demands placed on the planet's natural resources.

The later the world acts on these changes, the harder they will be to reverse, according to Marco Lambertini, director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature International and Mathis Wackernagel, president of the GFN. 

“Addressing resource constraints requires reshaping our use of resources like forests and energy, with profound effects on our infrastructure and lifestyles,” write Mr. Lambertini and Mr. Wackernagel.

In addition to reforming the use of ecological resources, influential figures also need to consider whether the Earth can support the globe’s growing population, which the UN recently announced is likely to reach 11 billion by 2100.

If the world doesn’t take action, we would use up the resources equivalent to two planets by 2030, with Earth Overshoot Day moving up on the calendar to the end of June, according to GFN.

International leaders are scheduled to tackle global warming and other impending issues at the UN’s upcoming climate agreement in December, with the shared goal requiring nations to implement policies to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2070. 

“Assuming global carbon emissions are reduced by at least 30 percent below today’s levels by 2030,” writes the GFN, “Earth Overshoot Day could be moved back on the calendar to September 16, 2030.”

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