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We’ve Already Used Up Our Ecological Budget For 2014, And It’s Only August

Once again, Earth Overshoot Day has arrived earlier than the year before.

We’ve Already Used Up Our Ecological Budget For 2014, And It’s Only August
[Photo: Shanghigh via Unsplash]

We just maxed out our ecological budget for 2014. For the rest of the year, we’ll be living in deficit to the environment, consuming more natural resources than the planet can regenerate. For the record, the exact date that we reached the limit was August 19.

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In 2013, “Earth Overshoot Day” fell on August 20 (see here), and the date has been getting earlier ever since the mid-1970s, when we first went into the red. It was October 21 in 1993, and early October by the 2000s.


The Global Footprint Network, an Oakland-based nonprofit, calculates the date using a simple formula: dividing the Earth’s “biocapacity” (the resources the planet can generate) with its footprint (demand for those resources). It then divides that number by 365, for the number of days this year.

Thanks to technological advances, humans have become more efficient with resources in the last couple of decades. But the deficit has widened due to growing population and the sheer weight of consumption. It is likely to continue its trajectory as countries like China and India industrialize, and the global population increases further.

GFN’s Mathis Wackernagel admits the date is an approximation. It’s more symbolic than rigorously accurate. The point is to show that the world is living in a fundamentally unsustainable way. GFN calculates that 86% of humanity lives in deficit. Switzerland needs more than four Switzerlands to sustain itself, and the United Arab Emirates needs more than 12 UAEs. The world needs about 1.5 of itself, going at current rates.


Though somewhat depressing, you could argue that GFN’s methodology is a more truthful assessment of environmental performance than many others. It’s common to hear, for instance, how countries and companies are “green” because they’ve reduced certain environmental harm. This analysis shows that that doesn’t stand for much, given that most of us are still living way beyond our means.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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