Researchers say this year’s ecological footprint has already been exceeded

Air pollution, level 9. London, April 2014. [David Holt/Flickr]

Although there’s four months left of 2014, humans have already exhausted the ecological space for this year. This means that there has been more consumption of resources than the planet can handle, and over-consumption is only getting worse, according to researchers.

Demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to that of more than 1.5 Earths. This is the conclusion drawn by the researchers from the think tank Global Footprint Network, who calculated how much of the ecological resources have been spent. It’s about things like soils, fish, forests, clean water and climate change.

“For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We will be operating in overshoot,” the think tank said in a statement.

Until the mid-1970s, humans did not transgress such ecological boundaries. But, over the last four decades, their ecological footprint has been larger than the Earth can handle. Growing population and increased consumption means that Overshoot Day, as it is called, comes earlier every year.

The date, which has been set at 19 August, is an approximation the researchers say, but this year it falls on a day earlier than last year. This is due to the fact that the per capita consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing every year. By mid-century, humans will need three globes.

“We need to stop eroding natural capital and, above all, stop storing more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through unsustainable consumption of resources and fossil fuels,” Carina Borgström-Hansson, an expert on ecological footprint at World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

May not be possible to fix

Finland, Canada and Australia are some of the countries that produce more ecological resources than they use, but most of the industrialised countries are living beyond their means.

“If we really get off on the transition to a resource-efficient and sustainable society, it is possible to reduce the waste of resources of the earth before the damage is incalculable, and impossible or extremely costly to fix,” said Håkan Wirtén, secretary general of the WWF.

Resource-efficiency is one of the seven flagship initiatives in the 'Europe 2020' strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, endorsed by EU heads of states in 2010.

The concept means decoupling economic growth from natural resource use – including raw materials, commodities, water, air or ecosystems.

The European Commission unveiled its Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe in September 2011, recommending the introduction of resource-efficiency indicators and targets across the 28-nation bloc.

The main ideas in the roadmap were developed further in the EU's seventh Environmental Action Programme, which aims to to turn the EU into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy, the Commission says.

  • 19 Aug.: Earth Overshoot Day 2014

Press articles

Subscribe to our newsletters