By Suzanne York (

If there is one day that all of humanity can recognize together, it would be that of Earth Overshoot Day. That is the day that global resource consumption for the year exceeds the planet’s ability to replenish its natural capital.

Or to put it another way, it is comparable to living off of your credit card, except in this case humanity is living off of its ecological credit card and using more than nature can keep up. Currently we are using about 50% more resources each year than the Earth can replenish. We would need 5 planets if we all lived like the average American and 3 planets as a European, according to the Global Footprint Network, which along with the new economics foundation conceived of Earth Overshoot Day.

Image credit: Global Footprint Network

There is no date-specific day for overshoot, though Global Footprint Network estimates that it usually takes approximately 8 months and then the planet goes into ecological debt, using more than what the Earth can provide in a given year. This year it hit on August 20th.

Watch this short 2-minute video to learn more about ecological overshoot:

Overcoming Overshoot: Resources in a World of 10 Billion

We live in a time of unprecedented environmental challenges including climate change, resource depletion, ocean acidification, water scarcity and mass extinctions. The latest UN projections are for 9.6 billion people by 2050. It could be more if we continue with business as usual, or it could be less if we invest in policies that put health and well-being first.

There are many ways to reduce our ecological debt. Below is a short list of a few things that every country should be doing.

  • Invest in Family Planning and Reproductive Health: 222 million women in developing countries want access to contraceptives but do not have it. When women’s reproductive needs are met, their lives and the lives of their children are healthier, and as population growth stabilizes, families are better able to manage natural resources sustainably. For instance, people in the US can support President Obama’s budget for funding international family planning – $635 million for the fiscal year 2014 and under threat from congressional cutbacks.
  • Support Girls’ Education: The World Bank reports that there are 35 million girls who aren’t in school. Studies show every year of education delays a girl’s marriage and reduces the number of children she has, and also that an educated girl will invest 90% of her future income in her family, compared to 35% for a boy.
  • Advocate for Clean Energy Policies: In May of 2013, for the first time in human history, CO2 levels crossed the 400ppm threshold. The good news is that we know what to do, and have the tools to do it now. Invest in renewable/clean energy sources, namely solar and wind, and support innovation, as well as a carbon tax. Why buildings in sunny places like Las Vegas are not covered in solar panels is just wrong.
  • Reduce Consumption: The mere fact that society is in overshoot reflects high rates of unsustainable consumption, especially in developed countries. And as more people rise to the middle class in emerging economies, even more resources will be consumed as people demand cars, air conditioning and other “conveniences” of modern living. Reducing consumption will be an enormous challenge. Limiting corporate power and ending mass advertising are places to start.
  • Alternative Economies: A belief in endless economic growth has pushed us into overshoot. To overcome this, different economic indicators that consider human and planetary well-being should be implemented (see Gross National Happiness, Genuine Progress Indicator, and Happy Planet Index). Supporting ecological economics and moving toward a steady-state economy and true cost economy are other concepts to put in place.

Wake Up World!

Certainly the time to act is now. The Global Footprint Network calls this ecological debt, and the interest we all are paying on that mounting debt (not to mention that of future generations) – food shortages, soil erosion, rising carbon emissions – “comes with devastating human and monetary costs.”

The question is, when will everyone wake up and realize this?

Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies. Connect with her on!

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