Humans of Planet Earth, we are about to hit our Earth Overshoot Day.
August 8, 2016, is the date when our yearly use of nature’s resources will begin to exceed what the planet is able to regenerate on its own over the course of one year. First conceived in 1987 (when the overshoot day was calculated to fall on December 19), the Earth Overshoot Day campaign is a project of the Global Footprint Network, a non-profit think tank shining a spotlight on humanity’s dire ecological straits and calling for “a new way of living on our one planet,” one in which humanity consumes within its collective means.
“The good news is that it is possible with current technology, and financially advantageous with overall benefits exceeding costs,” says Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and CEO of Global Footprint Network. “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.”
Earth Overshoot Day estimates the total biological materials consumed, resources extracted and carbon dioxide emitted by humanity and compares that number to the total biological productivity of the Earth’s lands and oceans. According to the Global Footprint Network, the balance had always been in nature’s favour, until last century when humanity’s needs started to exceed planetary plenty by the 1970s. This year, August 8 marks the earliest Earth Overshoot Day on record.
On a national level, Canada’s ecological footprint is huge. We have the 12th highest total ecological footprint (the majority of it in the form of carbon dioxide emissions) and the fourth highest footprint per capita, after only Luxembourg, Australia and the United States. If everyone lived as Canadians do, it is said, we would require 4.7 Earths to sustain the level of consumption. Yet the country is so large and replete with resources that its lands and seas produce twice the resources that are needed to sustain even the high demands of its citizens.
“Canada is fortunate to still have an abundance of renewable natural riches, when much of the world no longer does,” says David Miller, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, a partner on Earth Overshoot Day. “It’s vital that we take care of these resources now so they can continue to take care of us in the future.”
As an ecological accounting tool, the ecological footprint is frequently used by municipalities to guide land use policy and decision-making on planning and infrastructure. The City of Calgary has been singled out by the Global Footprint Network for its long-term commitment to ecological footprint accounting, by its setting of targets for reducing its corporate greenhouse gas emissions to 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050 and through including ecological footprint accounting in its land-use planning, both of which are thought to be crucial to building sustainable communities.
“Ecological Footprint analysis is an effective tool to help those involved in preparing plans to communicate the link between local awareness and global impact,” says Les Kuzyk, Planning Analyst, and Matt Rockley, City Planner, with the City of Calgary. “And it strengthens Calgary’s ability to make the connection between policy commitments and sustainable development.”