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<< Back to: ICLEI e-News | issue 13, September 2008
Global Footprint Network
ICLEI is a partner to the Global Footprint Network

23 September 2008: take action to end Earth Overshoot

On September 23, humanity will have used up all the resources nature will provide this year, according to data from Global Footprint Network, a research organization that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.

Nature also has a budget

Just like any company, nature has a budget – it can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste each year. The problem is, our demand on nature’s services is exceeding what it can provide. Since the 1980s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot, using resources faster than they can be regenerated and putting carbon into the air faster than it can be reabsorbed.

Humanity now demands 1.4 planets

Globally, we now demand the biological capacity of 1.4 planets, according to Global Footprint Network. But of course, we only have one. The result is that our supply of natural resources – like trees and fish – continues to shrink, while our waste – primarily carbon dioxide – accumulates.

ICLEI, an official partner

ICLEI, as an official partner to the Global Footprint Network, works to strengthen the Footprint and enhance its value as a catalyst for sustainability. “We encourage ICLEI Members to use the footprint as an indicator of their sustainability. Measuring sustainability is key to managing a city’s sustainable development”, noted Holger Robrecht, the director of sustainability management at ICLEI European Secretariat.

How the Ecological Footprint is calculated?

Each year, Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries and space for infrastructure), and compares this with global biocapacity—the ability of these ecosystems to generate resources and absorb waste. Ecological Footprint accounting can be used to determine the exact date we, as a global community, begin living beyond the means of what the planet produces every year.

Using our ecological reserves

“From now until the end of the year, we’re dipping into our ecological reserves, borrowing from the future,” said Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of Global Footprint Network. “This can go on for a short time, but ultimately it leads to a build up of waste and the depletion of the very resources on which the human economy depends.”


Ecological overshoot is at the root of many of the most pressing environmental problems we face today: climate change, declining biodiversity, shrinking forests, fisheries collapse, and many of the factors contributing to the current global food crisis.

Earth Overshoot Day is creeping ever earlier as human consumption grows

Humanity’s first Earth Overshoot Day was December 31, 1986. Ten years later, humanity was using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply, with Earth Overshoot Day falling in November. This year, more than two decades since we first went into overshoot, Earth Overshoot Day has moved up to September 23, and our rate of overshoot stands at 40 percent more than the planet can renewably supply.

Solving the problem

Global Footprint Network and its international partner network are focused on solving the problem of overshoot, working with businesses and government leaders bring ecological limits to the forefront of decision-making everywhere. Citizens can determine their own Ecological Footprint and learn how to reduce it at www.footprintnetwork.org. They can have an even greater impact by encouraging government and business leaders to build communities that help to end overshoot with smart infrastructure planning and best-practice green technology.

To make history, not news

With international commitment to end overshoot, Earth Overshoot Day can become history instead of news.