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Friday September 25 is Earth Overshoot Day: The day our global demand on the earth’s resources surpasses nature’s budget

On Sept. 25th, humanity will officially have demanded all the ecological services; more than three months before year end, we will have consumed as much as the planet can sustainably provide in a year.

September 24, 2009, Press Dispensary. Running on empty
According to leading resource accounting experts, on Sept. 25th, humanity will officially have demanded all the ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food – that nature can produce this year. In other words, more than three months before year end we will have consumed as much as the planet can sustainably provide in a year. To put it another way, to support our current level of global consumption we would need the earth to be about one-third larger.

The Global Footprint Network, in conjunction with UK partner Best Foot Forward, measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what. From September 25th we will be running on empty meeting our need for resources by depleting resource stocks and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Failing to balance our natural budget
Since the mid 1980s, humanity has been demanding ecological services faster than the planet can regenerate them, a condition known as ecological overshoot.

“Our demand for natural resources is, quite simply, outstripping supply.” Says BFF’s Technical Director Craig Simmons. “The evidence is all around us; the concentration of pollutants in our atmosphere is increasing, forests are shrinking, fish stocks are being depleted, potable water is becoming scarcer and top soil is being eroded.”

As a big consumer of natural resources, the UK economy went into overshoot much earlier in the year; May 22nd. Less that six months into the year, more resources were consumed than the UK could sustainably provide throughout a whole year.

Economic downturn has a noticeable effect
Earth Overshoot Day comes just 80 days before world leaders meet at Copenhagen to tackle the most prominent result of our ecological overspending. Our global Carbon Footprint has increased 1000% since 1961. Carbon dioxide emissions now account for over half of human demand on nature. We are now emitting much more carbon dioxide than the natural ecosystems of the planet can absorb; thus it is building up in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

However, because of the global economic slowdown, we will reach Earth Overshoot Day one day later than last year, according to Global Footprint Network projections. By comparison, in the past, Earth Overshoot Day has steadily moved four to six days closer to January 1st each year.

“The fact is that in spite of a very painful world economic situation, we are still way over-budget in our use of nature,” said GFN co-founder Dr. Mathis Wackernagel. “The challenge is to find a way to reduce overshoot in boom times as well as lean years. How can we maintain healthy economies and provide for human well-being in a way which doesn’t depend on liquidating resources and accumulating CO2? This will be the critical question of the 21st century.”

How Earth Overshoot Day is calculated
Every year, Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint – the amount of productive land and sea area required to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, including CO2 emissions – and compares that with biocapacity, the ability of ecosystems to generate resources. Earth Overshoot Day, a concept devised by UK-based new economics foundation, is calculated from 2005 data (the most recent year for which data are available) and projections based on historical rates of growth in population and consumption, as well as the historical link between world GDP and resource demand to account for the impact of the worldwide economic slowdown.

Taking Action
Both collective agreements and individual actions by countries, cities and organizations to improve resource efficiency and curb CO2 emissions will be critical to balancing our nature budget. Minimizing reliance on fossil fuels in favour of cleaner and less resource-intensive forms of energy is one important step. Another is encouraging resource-efficient infrastructure. The roads, power plants, housing, water systems, and urban expansions we invest in today may last 50 or even 100 years. Poor choices can lock us into this ecologically (and economically) risky resource consumption for decades to come.

Global Footprint Network and its founding member in the UK, Best Foot Forward, is focused on solving the problem of overshoot, working with businesses and government leaders around the world to make ecological limits a central part of decision-making everywhere.

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Notes for editors
About Best Foot forward
Best Foot Forward (BFF) is one of Europe's leading sustainability consultancies specialising in energy and natural resource accounting methodologies such as resource flow analysis, ecological footprinting and carbon accounting.

Established in 1997, Best Foot Forward has successfully completed well over 1000 footprint analyses helping more than 300 organisations to measure, manage, communicate and reduce their environmental impact.

For further information, please contact:
Paul Cooper, managing director
Best Foot Forward
Tel: 01865 250818

Media contacts

Paul Cooper, managing director
Tel: 01865 250818

sustainability ecology ecological energy natural resources carbon accounting