Congratulations humans! 2015’s resources have been used

Happy holidays! Have you sent your Overshoot Day cards yet? If not, you’re too late.

Congratulations humans! 2015’s resources have been used

Unlike Christmas, which stays fixed each year, Overshoot Day – the depressing date that marks humanity passing its yearly resource allowance – is today. That’s six days earlier than last year.

“The depressing date that marks humanity passing its yearly resource allowance is today.”

Also known as the less catchy ‘Ecological Debt Day’, the figure is calculated by comparing the planet’s use of resources such as fish stocks, timber, crops and its carbon emissions against its ability to renew the resources and absorb the carbon. The later this happens, the better.

If this fell on December 31st, Earth would be just about living within its means. In an ideal world, it would fall every couple of years, meaning we’d have resources to spare but, as the data repeatedly tells us, we’re far from being an ideal world.

The Global Footprint Network (GFN), who estimate the date, reckon our consumption has been outstripping capacity since the early 1970s. However, while those early Overshoot Days were reached in December, the date has been steadily creeping back each year.

I’ve put together a graph to show the past Overshoot Day dates, and the trend doesn’t make for happy reading.overshoot_day

Obviously, there are some gaps in the data – particularly before the 2000s – and some weird spikes (2011 wasn’t exactly a good year, but it was slightly less awful than now, given the surprise September date), but the overall trend doesn’t look ideal. We’ve gone from December to August in my lifetime – that’s terrifying.

“The UK, per capita, gobbles up around three times more than ecosystems can renew.”

Here’s another scary statistic: we currently consume the equivalent of 1.6 planets per year and, with current projections, we should hit two planets by 2030. Want to feel even worse? The UK, per capita, gobbles up around three times more than ecosystems can renew. On the bright side, that’s nothing compared to other parts of the planet – but only because developing countries are getting worse.

Mathis Wackernagel, the GFN’s president told The Guardian, “The big problem is not that our deficit is getting bigger, it is that it cannot be maintained in the long-run. Even though we are in a deficit equation we are not taking measures to take us in the right direction.”

It would be nice to think that the unprecedented early Overshoot Day would spring us into action, but then we’ve had unprecedented early dates in 2014, 2013, 2010, 2009 and 2006, and none of those seemed to snap us out of it.

Despite this, Wackernagel hopes that the UN Climate Change Conference in December might see more serious change. “The conference in December is sparking conversations and we are seeing unheard of agreements between the US and China,” he said.

Hopefully we’ll start to see that line graph heading back up over the next few years, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Until our atmosphere makes breathing difficult, that is.

Image by Jon Feinstein, used under Creative Commons.

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