Earth Overshoot Day: Time for a radical rethink

Humanity has already used up more resources this year than our planet can regenerate. Each year, Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier. Many say it's time to radically rethink our consumption patterns and economic system.

As of Wednesday, August 1, 2018, we have officially used up all of the Earth's resources for the year — and there are still five months left to go.

Nature and Environment | 19.06.2018

Back in 1970, Earth Overshoot Day — the date when humanity as a whole has used up the resources needed to live sustainably for a year — fell on December 29, just two days from the end of the year.

But since then, we've been increasingly overshooting the planet's annual natural budget, with that day creeping ever earlier on the calendar. In 2017, that day was August 2.

Infografik Earth Overshoot Day EN

From that day on for the rest of the year, we are running an ecological deficit, depleting local resource stocks through overfishing and overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ecosystems can absorb.

Nature and Environment | 26.06.2018

High-income countries use most resources

We currently need 1.7 planets to support all of humanity's demand on Earth's ecosystems, according to Global Footprint Network.

Each year, the nonprofit research group calculates the date of the Earth Overshoot Day by taking the planet's biocapacity — that is, the amount of natural resources that are available — and dividing it by the amount of resources we've used up. 

But not all countries are equally to blame for overshooting our natural budget. 

Higher-income countries use far more resources per year than lower-income countries.

Qatar, the richest country in the world as of 2017, has the highest consumption of natural resources on Earth.

If the whole population in the world lived like people in Qatar, we would need more than nine planets in total.

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In comparison, if everyone lived like people in Nigeria or India, we would need only a bit more than half a planet a year. And with the average lifestyle in Vietnam, we would use up exactly one planet.

Of course, this doesn't take into account the differences within each country.

Infografik How many planets would we need EN

Less consumption, new economic system

Germans are also living well beyond sustainable means. If the entire world had the same ecological footprint as Germans do, we would require more than three planets.

In this scenario, almost two planets would be needed to absorb the world's carbon emissions due to Germany's high consumption of fossil fuels such as coal.

Worldwide, fossil fuels are the main culprit of our resource overshoot. In fact, they currently make up 60 percent of humanity's ecological footprint.

If we were to cut our global carbon use in half, the date of Earth Overshoot Day would be pushed back by about three months. A huge reduction in carbon emissions is also crucial to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Infografik Earth Overshoot Day Resourcen Deutschland EN

But in order to make this massive change, we would need to radically rethink our consumption patterns and economic system. Germany's Development Minister Gerd Müller made the point to mark the day:

"Earth Overshoot Day shows clearly: We are using too much of everything! This is why we need to introduce three changes: a new understanding of growth, a circular economy and a consequent move to renewable energy," Müller said.

"This is needed for sustainable development — and for global justice."

Nature and Environment

Living large

Each year, the Global Footprint Network — an international think tank with more than 90 partner organizations — calculates the so-called Earth Overshoot Day. This marks the date when we have used as much from nature as our planet can renew over the whole year. Think of it as a bank account with a certain budget for the year. Starting on August 1, 2018, humanity is in the red.

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Who needs how much?

Today, all of humanity consumes resources equivalent to 1.7 planet Earths. Needless to say, there are big regional differences: If all of mankind lived and did business like Germans, we would need more than 3 planets; the American way of life would require 4.9 planets.

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Dirty work

Burning fossil fuels and wood makes up 60 percent of our ecological footprint. In absolute terms, China, the United States, the European Union and India are the world's largest CO2 emitters. Per capita consumption, however, puts those figures into perspective.

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Forests under pressure

Trees provide timber, an invaluable raw material for items such as paper. But they also prevent soil erosion, help replenish the groundwater and are indispensable in climatic cycles, including as CO2 reservoirs. In Germany for example, forested area binds a mere 15 percent of the country's annual CO2 emissions. Nonetheless, 3.3 million hectares of forest are lost worldwide each year.

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Enough to go around?

Humanity is growing. New crop areas are sprouting up everywhere — and at the same time, the world is losing farmland to urban development, soil erosion and soil degradation. At the moment, each EU citizen uses an average of 0.31 hectares of farmland for the food they consume. But if resources were distributed equitably worldwide, everyone would be entitled to only 0.2 hectares.

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Overfished oceans

As we catch ever more fish, stocks are not able to recover adequately. By now, almost a third of the world's fish stocks are considered overfished, and far more than half exploited to their maximum. CO2 emissions are also acidifying the oceans, resulting in ever more difficult living conditions for marine creatures.

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Water scarcity

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that almost half of the world's population will suffer from water shortages by 2030. Groundwater reserves are becoming increasingly scarce, and are often contaminated. The level of pollution in from farming and household waste in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water is in some places so high that this water is not even suitable for animals.

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Self-sufficiency on 1.8 hectares

In mathematical terms, every human would have 1.8 hectares at his or her disposal in order to satisfy basic survival needs in an ecologically sustainable fashion. But the average German, for example, consumes the equivalent of 5.1 hectares. In 2018, Germany already exhausted its bio-capacity on May 2 — and has since been living at the expense of other countries or future generations.

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