Humans drain Earth’s resources faster than ever

Excessive thirst: Global water demand is projected to increase as much as 55% by 2050.

Do we need another planet? As of today, humans have consumed more resources, like food, fuel and water, than the Earth can renew in a year. Alarmingly, the rate is faster than it was last year.

It took just 209 days. In under seven months, the human race has used up a whole year’s worth of resources, including food, fuel, water, land and timber. So, from now until December, all the resources we carry on using will be unsustainable in the future.

According to an annual study, 29 July marks “Earth Overshoot Day” — the day when we’ve used up nature’s resource budget for the entire year.

The study warns that we would need the equivalent of 1.75 Earths — that’s nearly another whole planet — to carry on living the way we do.

Worryingly, we have reached Earth Overshoot Day three days earlier than last year. Before the 1970s, people lived within the limits of what the planet produced. But since then, our consumption — and how that affects the planet — has gone out of control.

Last year, The Day asked: “How can we push back Earth Overshoot Day?” At the time, important steps included cutting emissions and switching to a vegetarian diet. However, we now need to act more urgently — or we’ll need to find another planet to produce more resources for us. But that seems impossible considering we haven’t set foot on another planet since the last mission to the Moon in 1972.

It is shocking that after a year of climate crisis protests and carbon emission targets around the world, we’re using up our resources faster than before. Have we listened to the warnings? Have we made any progress? Will we use Earth’s resources more quickly next year?

“Ultimately, human activity will be brought in balance with Earth’s ecological resources,” says Mathis Wackernagel. “The question is whether we choose to get there by disaster or by design.”

Balancing the books

By disaster: We are headed to a climate disaster, it is too late to change. Only after disaster will Earth’s resources return to balance — but at the cost of many lives.

By design: We still have time to reduce our demands on Earth’s resources. Governments are acting and people are protesting in the streets — change is coming!

You Decide

  1. Will humans ever be able to live within their means?

Activities

  1. Calculate your own Ecological Footprint by following the first link under Become An Expert. Is it higher or lower than you expected? Why do you think your score is as high or low as it is?

Some People Say...

“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today.”

Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old climate activist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Yesterday (29 July) was the earliest that Earth Overshoot Day has ever occurred. However, the financial crisis of 2007-8 saw a fall in consumption which pushed the date back by five days.
What do we not know?
How future population growth and economic changes will affect our ecological footprint.

Word Watch

Timber
Wood prepared for use in building and carpentry.
Unsustainable
Unable to be maintained at the current rate or level.
Study
Conducted by Global Footprint Network every year since 1970.
Carbon emission targets
In June 2019, the UK government promised to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. That means emissions from homes, transport, farming and industry will have to be avoided completely or — in the most difficult examples — offset by planting trees or sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Mathis Wackernagel
Swiss-born sustainability champion, and chief executive and co-founder of Global Footprint Network.

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