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Ecological Overshoot
By Christie Renner

September 25th was Earth Overshoot Day, according to the Global Footprint Network, an international organization that measures human impact on the earth. Earth Overshoot Day is the day of the year on which we humans surpass our yearly quota of sustainable resources use and waste production. Our activities for the rest of the year amount to deficit spending.

It now takes the earth one year and four months to regenerate what we use in one year. By the mid 2030s, the earth will need two years to catch up with each year of human activity. Needing two earths—but only having one—will have many consequences as fresh water becomes scarce, fisheries collapse, topsoil thins, and our climate changes.

The goal of the Global Footprint Network is to track global data on resource use and waste production—to measure humanity’s impact on the earth with a common unit of comparison, so ecological limits can become central to the decisions made by governments and businesses around the world.

According to the organization’s ecological economists, humanity first went into global overshoot in 1986. At first I was surprised not to see an earlier date. But remember that this is a global calculation. While some developed nations have been ecological debtors for much longer, certain developing countries are still creditors—using little enough resources and producing little enough waste to pull the global calculation further into balance.

But this is changing quickly as developing countries join the climb for higher gross domestic product (GDP). Ensuring developing countries the opportunity to develop their economies, and increase their GDP, without increasing humanity’s global footprint requires a different type of development, one not based on fossil fuels. Creating the technological innovations needed to transition us to a low-carbon, small footprint economy presents businesses with tremendous opportunities. Companies that are innovating and reducing their own footprints will lead the way.

Christie Renner
Assistant to the CEO
christierenner@firstaffirmative.com

Posted: October 19, 2009