Like a teenager blowing all of his or her first paycheque, humanity has officially depleted all of its renewable natural resources for the year – just 221 days in.
According to the independent think tank Global Footprint Network, human civilization surpassed its natural capital on Monday and has since been overfishing, over foresting and dumping more carbon emissions into the atmosphere than can be absorbed.
And the rate at which humanity is reaching “Earth Overshoot Day” has steadily increased as the world’s population has continued to expand and consumption has increased.
For context, 16 years ago, humanity depleted its renewable resources in September.
A press release put out by Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of GFN and Balakrishna Pisupati, head of the biodiversity, land and governance programme with the United Nations Environment Programme, said if humans continue to use the Earth’s resources at this rate it could have “disastrous consequences” in terms of climate change, the erosion of topsoil through the conversion of grasslands and forests into farmlands, and an overall loss of biodiversity.
“The longer we continue viewing natural resources as unlimited, the faster we are jeopardizing the very capacity of our planet to provide us with the renewable resources that we need to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves,” they wrote.
However, the rate at which Earth Overshoot Day has slid forward on the calendar has been slow, according to GFN.
On average, it has moved up only one day a year over the past five years, compared to an average of three days a year since it started being tracked in the early 1970s.
The Earth’s total budgeted resources are calculated by comparing the ecological footprint, or the demand for resources, to the biocapacity, nature’s ability to supply them. Both are measured in global hectares.
In 2012, the World Wildlife Fund calculated that humanity’s ecological footprint in 2010 was 18.1 billion global hectares, however; Earth’s total biocapacity was only 12 billion global hectares, meaning there was a deficit of 6.1 billion.
According to the GFN, 85 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries that have natural ecosystems that cannot keep up with their citizens’ demand for resources.
A further 71 per cent live in countries where the issue is compounded by low-income levels, which means it means acquiring those resources through trade can be more challenging.
For example, Canada’s ecological footprint per capita is 8.2 gha, but its ecosystem has the capacity to supply 16 gha, creating a credit of 7.8 gha.
In contrast, our neighours to the south, have the exact same footprint per capita, but only have a biocapacity of 3.8 gha, leading to a deficit of 4.5 gha.
One of the most pressing concerns is humanity’s continued dependence on fossil fuels. GFN says that our carbon emissions make up 60 per cent of our total ecological footprint.
However, there is some hope on the horizon, according to GFN.
The think tank lauded the goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement, which was adopted by nearly 200 countries, including Canada, in April.
The GFN said there is nothing holding back these nations from achieving the goal becoming carbon neutral by 2050 except for “political will.”
“Such a new way of living comes with many advantages, and making it happen takes effort,” said Wackernagel, in a press release.
“The good news is that it is possible with current technology, and financially advantageous with overall benefits exceeding costs,” he said, adding that the transition will stimulate emerging sectors like renewable energy while preventing the risk and costs tied to adapting infrastructure to the impact of climate change.