Every year, the international research organization Global Footprint Network calculates how quickly the world’s population is using the Earth’s natural resources. Their results determine Earth Overshoot Day—the day humanity’s usage of natural resources surpasses our allotted budget for that year.
Earth Overshoot Day 2018 falls on Aug. 1, the earliest date since we started falling into ecological debt in the 1970s, the organization says. (Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was just a day later, on Aug. 2). This means that for the remaining five months of 2018, humanity will be using more natural resources than what the Earth can renew in the year, chipping into our ecological savings.
“In other words, humanity is currently using nature 1.7 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate,” said the Global Footprint Network in a press release. “This is akin to using 1.7 Earths.”
The calculations are made with ecological footprint accounting. One’s “ecological footprint” is the amount of natural resources a person requires to live. The calculations include international demand for resources such as timber, food, and fibers. They also look at the absorption of carbon emissions and infrastructure use.
Humanity’s carbon footprint currently makes up 60% of the total ecological footprint. It’s also the fastest growing component, the organization reports, having more than doubled since 1970.
“The costs of this ecological overspending include deforestation; collapsing fisheries; fresh-water scarcity; soil erosion; biodiversity loss; and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to climate change and more severe droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes,” said the Global Footprint Network. “These threats can produce desperation and force many people to migrate to cities or other countries.”
“As we mark Earth Overshoot Day, today may seem no different from yesterday—you still have the same food in your refrigerator,” said Global Footprint Network CEO Mathis Wackernagel in a statement. “But fires are raging in the Western United States. On the other side of the world, residents in Cape Town have had to slash water consumption in half since 2015. These are consequences of busting the ecological budget of our one and only planet.”
The organization came up with some solutions to combat the annual encroachment of Earth Overshoot Day. Possible action addresses four areas: cities, energy, food, and population. The Global Footprint Network suggests reducing driving by 50% (replacing miles with public transportation, walking, and biking instead), reducing the carbon component of our ecological footprint by 50% (done primarily through phasing out fossil fuels), reducing food waste, and having fewer children.
While there’s still work to be done, the research found some promising signs. China’s ecological footprint decreased between 2013 and 2014, after being steadily on the rise since 2000. Germany also saw a decrease in its ecological footprint per person in this time period. Overall, the ecological footprint per person in high-income countries has decreased 12.9% since 2000, Global Footprint Network reports.