As of Thursday, August 13, human beings have officially exhausted the planet's yearly supply of natural resources, meaning that for the rest of 2015, earth will be running an "ecological deficit"—accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and depleting the planet for future generations.
This is the disturbing estimate of the Global Footprint Network (GFN), which calculates the planet's "overshoot day" on an annual basis. The troubling milestone comes less than eight months into 2015 and six days earlier than last year's—a symptom of what the organization warns is a "looming catastrophe."
"We have a metabolism problem," Mathis Wackernagel, president of GFN, told Common Dreams. "In the end, the biggest knowledge gap we have is whether physical reality matters or not. Most of the planning we do assumes resource reality is a minor issue."
"Earth Overshoot Day" is calculated by dividing the biocapacity of the planet—defined by the group as "the ability of an ecosystem to regenerate biological resources and absorb wastes generated by humans"—by humanity's overall ecological footprint, and then multiplying this ratio by 365.
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According to the group, in the 1970s, the earth passed a "critical threshold" where human consumption began outpacing the planet's ability to restore itself. Today, humanity's "demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to that of more than 1.5 Earths."
"In planetary terms, the costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day," GFN warned. "Climate change—a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans—is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others—shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few."
Others have pointed out that the world does not contribute to planetary depletion equally. For example, a report released earlier this year by Oil Change International finds that wealthy countries are driving the global expansion of coal extraction and power generation. Meanwhile, poor people and nations across the world are impacted the most by the ongoing effects of climate change. Social movements and countries from the Global South have argued that rich countries owe a "climate debt"—to be paid in the form of reparations.