For some people, hitting the overdraft is a monthly occurence. If we’re not very good at keeping track of our money, we may spend more than we earn. How long our paycheck lasts is a sign of how unhealthy our spending is. Reach the line right at the end of the month, every couple of months, and you’ll be okay. Hit the red halfway through every month, and you’re on the road to bankruptcy.
We face a similar problem as a species, not with our salaries, but with the planet. According to the Footprint Network, today is the day we start living beyond the earth’s means. As of today, we’ve used all the earth’s ecological services that it can provide this year, and from here on in we’re in overshoot, or in ecological debt.
Biocapacity is the earth’s ability to provide resources and absorb waste. It can do limited amounts of both of those things, and today we hit those limits. We can continue to draw down more resources and emit more waste, but we’ll be impacting the earth’s future abilities to meet our needs. Fish stocks will run down, forests will be cut faster than they can grow, and CO2 mounting up in the atmosphere will continue destabilising the climate.
As the Footprint Network puts it: “Earth Overshoot Day shows the day on which our total Ecological Footprint (measured in global hectares) is equal to the biocapacity (also measured in global hectares) that nature can regenerate in that year. For the rest of the year, we are accumulating debt by depleting our natural capital and letting waste accumulate.”
Last year Ecological Debt Day fell on September 25th. It’s jumped forward a whole month because of better data, suggesting previous dates were far too conservative.
Just like an overdraft, we can only live off our ecological debt for so long. Unlike finance, there is no bankruptcy mechanism for clearing our debts and starting again. We have no alternative but to use less, to live more simply and efficiently, and to share the earth’s resources more fairly.