Countries are stripping the earth of its natural resources at a rate that’s increasingly leaving the planet barren and inhospitable, according to the environmental nonprofit the Global Footprint Network.
Humanity’s annual rate of resource consumption is currently far beyond the planet’s ability to sustainably regenerate itself. In fact, countries would need 1.75 Earths to sustain the current rate of resource consumption around the world. If people in every country lived like United States citizens, then humanity would need five Earths’ worth of resources every year, according to GNF’s analysis.
Each year, the Global Footprint Network calculates “Earth Overshoot Day,” the date after which all resource consumption becomes unsustainable. This year’s Overshoot Day was July 29, two months earlier than it was two decades ago.
“We have only got one Earth — this is the ultimately defining context for human existence,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-inventor of Ecological Footprint accounting and founder of Global Footprint Network, in a press release. “We can’t use 1.75 without destructive consequences.”
The Overshoot Day is determined by dividing the earth’s biocapacity — how many resources it can regenerate each year — by humanity’s ecological footprint, and then multiplying that by 365.
The ecological footprint is calculated by looking at how much ecological resources such as water, timber, fish, and agricultural products are consumed and how much pollution occurs on an annual basis. For example, carbon dioxide accounts for 60% of humanity’s resource budget because of how it alters the climate and environment as it accumulates in the atmosphere.
“With Earth Overshoot Day occurring ever earlier in the year, and a big part of it being the growing amounts of CO2 emissions, the importance of decisive action is becoming ever more evident,” said María Carolina Schmidt Zaldívar, Chile’s environment minister, in the press release. “For this reason, we are working with all parties to find effective approaches.”
Around a third of fish populations are being dangerously overfished and nearly 60% are being caught at their maximum sustainable level. More than 29 million acres of forest were razed last year, and desertification due to soil degradation, drought, and urbanization is rapidly overtaking large parts of the planet.
Chief among these changes is shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Countries can also begin to reforest parts of the planet that have experienced tree loss, curb pollution in marine environments, adopt policies for responsible fisheries management, and overhaul the global food system to be less resource-intensive.
Companies have a big role to play in this transition, according to the Global Footprint Network.
“Companies and countries that understand and manage the reality of operating in a one-planet context,” Wackernagel wrote in his book Ecological Footprint: Managing Our Biocapacity Budget, “are in a far better position to navigate the challenges of the 21st century.”.