While Olympians are desperately competing in Rio for the fastest times and highest scores, humanity has achieved a different world record – we have used up nature’s budget for the entire year in record time. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year and arrived earlier than ever, falling on August 8, 2016. Unfortunately, there are no winners in the race for natural resources.
“When overshoot day arrives, it means we have spent all the interest on the planet’s ecological bank account and are now dipping into the capital,” Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University explained to National Geographic. “That is, we’re depleting what our planet does for us, so year after year, there is less for us to use. Less forest, fewer fish in the ocean, less productive land — burdens that fall disproportionately on the world’s poor.”
Earth Overshoot Day has been creeping up the calendar throughout the new millennium, from October 1st in 2000 to August 13th in 2015 and now August 8th. Carbon emissions are the fastest growing contributor to ecological overshoot, with the carbon footprint now making up 60 percent of humanity’s demand on nature, or its ecological footprint. Under the Paris Climate Agreement, the carbon footprint will need to gradually fall to zero by 2050. While countries have begun to ratify the accord, the responsibility is larger than governments, and businesses and individuals will need to find new ways of operating and living on our planet if we are to achieve such a goal.
“Such a new way of living comes with many advantages, and making it happen takes effort,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network, the think tank that devised Earth Overshoot Day. “The good news is that it is possible with current technology, and financially advantageous with overall benefits exceeding costs. It will stimulate emerging sectors like renewable energy, while reducing risks and costs associated with the impact of climate change on inadequate infrastructure. The only resource we still need more of is political will.”
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“The Paris climate agreement is the strongest statement yet about the need to reduce the carbon Footprint drastically. Ultimately, collapse or stability is a choice,” Wackernagel added. “We forcefully recommend nations, cities and individuals take swift, bold actions to make the Paris goals an attainable reality.”
Cities and regions that want to reduce their ecological footprint can apply for pro-bono assistance from Global Footprint Network for a specific project or program, thanks to a new grant. The think tank will assess both the ecological footprint saved by the project and its potential financial returns using its specialized frameworks and tools. Potential projects include a new urban development, an energy-efficiency policy, an electric car fleet purchase, or solar panel subsidies, to name just a few.
Individuals are invited to make pledges at OvershootDay.org and share selfies via social media for the chance to win a GoPro camera. There are six pledges on the website, including to host a vegetarian dinner party, lower household energy consumption, and select a day to telecommute or take alternative transportation. Global Footprint Network and its 25 Earth Overshoot Day partners launched the #PledgeforthePlanet campaign on Earth Day, April 22, to highlight the significance of resource scarcity in a sustainable world where people and planet thrive.