Earth’s ecological footprint increasing at destructive rate, finds report

Published by Manus Boyle on


July 26th, 2018

Humans are using up the earth’s resources at an increasingly destructive rate, consuming a years’ worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in less than seven months.

This is the finding of a new study from the Global Footprint Network (GFN) that determined the world’s ecological footprint by adding up all competing demands on resources and infrastructure.

The calculations help GFN to determine the so-called Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity has used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year.

This year, Earth Overshoot Day is expected to fall on 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded. We would need 1.7 earths to maintain our consumption of the earth’s resources for the entire year, the report adds.

Ecological overspending was first recorded in 1970 when rising populations and increasing average demands pushed consumption beyond a sustainable level.

This overspend has resulted in deforestation, collapsing fisheries, freshwater scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss. It also contributes to the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to climate change and more severe droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes, the GFN said.

According to Mathis Wackernagel, the Network’s president, the world economy is “running a Ponzi scheme with our planet” as we deplete resources needed for the future and fall “deeper into ecological debt”.

“Fires are raging in the western United States, on the other side of the world, residents in Cape Town have had to slash water consumption in half since 2015. These are consequences of busting the ecological budget of our one and only planet,” Mr Wackernagel warned.

Drone eye view of fire in Saggart last week. Firefighters from Tallaght, Rathfarnham and HQ attended the scene Photo: Dublin Fire Brigade

The GFN report points to four key solutions to address ecological overshoot, including replacing one-third of car miles with public transportation and active modes of transport. This would we can move the date for Overshoot Day back 12 days, it says.

We would gain 30 days by 2050, the report finds, by reducing the carbon component of our ecological footprint by fifty per cent, cutting food waste in half and encouraging family planning toward having fewer children per family.

Replacing 50 per cent of meat consumption with a vegetarian diet would push back the overshoot date by five days, the report adds.

GFN and its partners will mark Earth Overshoot Day 2018 with several activities around the world such as screenings, webinars and press conferences.

They will also feature these events and more with interviews from around the world through a live broadcast on Facebook and YouTube.

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Manus Boyle

Manus is an MA Journalism student at DCU. He has an interest in the environment, the outdoors and live music.