The Donkey Is Sleeping Today

Earth Overshoot Day: The Real Deficit

In Environment, Health, Politics on August 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I stumbled across an article today by Jess Leber on that alerted me to a phenomenon of which I had never heard: Earth Overshoot Day.

According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), it is a concept devised by “The New Economics Foundation” (NEF) that symbolically marks the day in which we exhaust the planet’s ecological resources for the year.

Sadly, that day is today – August 21st.

These resources include the planet’s ability to filter all the CO2 emissions and its ability to produce the raw materials needed for food. According to GFN:

From that point [Earth Overshoot Day] until the end of the year, we meet our ecological demand by liquidating resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Until about thirty years ago, the rate of human consumption was below what the planet could generate in terms of raw materials and carbon absorption. But every year, Earth Overshoot Day arrives earlier and earlier. This year alone, the GFN estimates that human beings will consume about half again more resources than what the planet can naturally produce. Talk about running up the debt.

They also estimate that, if current population and consumption trends continue, we will need the equivalent of two planets to sustain ourselves by mid-century.

So what are the causes? Again, the GFN:

Climate change – a result of carbon being emitted faster than it can be reabsorbed by the forests and seas – is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others as well: shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse and freshwater stress to name a few.

And this is to say nothing about the man-made disasters such as the Gulf Oil Spill (and the dead zone created in the decades before it); chemical spills in both the water and the air; toxic waste dumping; the floating garbage patches in our oceans; and the human and ecological devastation of wars around the globe.

Here is an explanation of how GFN calculates Earth Overshoot Day and the planet’s ecological debt:

Put simply, Earth Overshoot Day shows the day on which our total Ecological Footprint (measured in global hectares) is equal to the biocapacity (also measured in global hectares) that nature can regenerate in that year. For the rest of the year, we are accumulating debt by depleting our natural capital and letting waste accumulate.

[ world biocapacity / world Ecological Footprint ] x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day

The day of the year on which humanity enters into overshoot and begins adding to our ecological debt is calculated by calculating the ratio of global available biocapacity to global Ecological Footprint and multiplying by 365. From this, we find the number of days of demand that the biosphere could supply, and the number of days we operate in overshoot.

Here’s a graphic on the elements they include in their calculations.

Perhaps one could argue that these calculations are symbolic only. But they raise a larger and more important point: we are slowly killing our planet and ourselves. And the ecological deficit we are creating has even more dire consequences than the budget deficit Washington argues about incessantly.

Of course, all of us are responsible for this phenomenon – the industrialized countries more than most. And North America and Western Europe lead the way. As the following video points out, GFN estimates that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as North America, we would need five planets to sustain ourselves, and if we lived like Western Europeans, we would need three planets.

But it is nice to see that there are organizations out there that are taking climate change and its disastrous effects seriously, even while we dither in the United States by allowing climate legislation to be killed by the flat-Earth Republicans; by debate to be stymied by climate change deniers whose unscientific and half-baked theories are given legitimacy by the media’s penchant for false equivalencies; and by a general lethargy in terms of environmental issues.


  1. Thank you for casting light on this issue. This is something we all need to think about. I know that I will.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: