By 2 August 2017, we will have consumed more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year, breaking last year’s record by six days.

Earth Overshoot has moved from late September in 1997 to 2 August this year, the earliest date since the world first went into overshoot in the early 1970s.

Overshoot Day, marks the date at which humanity’s demand on the planet exceeds that which it can regenerate in a whole year. According to Global Footprint Network (GFN), humanity is currently using nature 1.7 times faster than ecosystems can regenerate.

The costs of this global ecological overspend are becoming increasingly evident around the world, through deforestation, drought, fresh water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build up of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

Carbon emissions make up 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint. But GFN says some positive trends are beginning to emerge. The US per capita ecological footprint, for example, fell nearly 20% from its peak in 2005 to 2013. This significant shift, which includes a post-recession pick-up, is directly linked to decreasing carbon emissions. US per capita gross domestic product (GDP) grew about 20% over the same period, making the USA a compelling case of decoupling (with economic growth and natural resource consumption following opposite trends).

A similar pattern is emerging in Europe where, despite an overall increase of 1.4% in the GDP in 2014, the EU decreased its CO2 emissions by 5.4% with respect to 2013, which the EU says illustrates the continued decoupling of Europe’s economic growth from CO2 emissions. Total EU CO₂ emissions are now 23% below the 1990 level.

However, relentless depletion of natural resources continues to add to the Earth’s ecological deficit. In an effort to limit over consumption of resources and reduce waste, GFN has launched a user-friendly footprint calculator that shows people how to calculate their own personal Earth footprint. The new calculator allows users to lower their personal ecological footprint. Users can play with options, learn about solutions and connect to brief facts about sustainability.

Launching the calculator, Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of GFN, said: “Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future. Ultimately, moving back the date of Earth Overshoot Day on the calendar is the name of the game.”

The footprint calculator is part of a global initiative to move the date by 4.5 days a year, which GFN estimates will be enough to return global resource to sustainable levels by 2050.

Read more about global footprinting and Earth Overshoot in our article Environmental literacy — what do we really know?

Last reviewed 2 August 2017