August 20 is Earth Overshoot Day, the approximate date humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can renew in a year. In just 7 months and 20 days, we have demanded a level of ecological resources and services — from food and raw materials to sequestering carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions — equivalent to what Earth can regenerate for all of 2013.
Humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. For the rest of the year, we are operating in overshoot. We will maintain our ecological deficit by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. As our level of consumption, or “spending,” grows, the interest we are paying on this mounting ecological debt — shrinking forests, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse, food shortages, degraded land productivity and the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and oceans — not only burdens the environment but also undermines our economies.
Climate change — a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans — is the most widespread impact of ecological overspending. In 1961, humanity used only about two-thirds of Earth’s available ecological resources. Most countries had ecological reserves back then. Yet both global demand and population are increasing. In the early 1970s, increased carbon emissions and human demand for resources began outstripping what the planet could renewably produce. We went into ecological overshoot.
Humanity is now using ecological resources and services at a rate it would take just over 1.5 Earths to renew. We are on track to require the resources of two Earths well before mid-century. Today, more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that use more than the ecosystems within their own borders can renew. These “ecological debtor” countries either deplete their own ecological resources or get them from elsewhere. For example, if everybody on the planet were to live like United States residents today, it would take four Earths to support the global population. It would take 1.2 Chinas to support China. Qatar uses the ecological resources of 6.5 Qatars. However, not all countries demand more than their ecosystems can provide, but even the reserves of such “ecological creditors” like Brazil, Indonesia, and Sweden are shrinking over time. We can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require. It is possible to turn the tide. Ecological debtors have an incentive to reduce their resource dependence, while creditors have the economic, political and strategic motive for preserving their ecological capital. Earth Overshoot Day is a valuable opportunity to raise awareness about humanity’s ecological resource use.
Today is a reminder to be good stewards of our natural resources on Earth. Stewardship, from the Latin “majordomu” means “the great caretaker of the home.” God entrusted us with the task of caring for His creation, naming us ambassadors of his house, the Earth. Given that God is the owner and master of the Earth; it is our responsibility to care for it as best as possible, using natural resources wisely and rationally.