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Updated: September 26, 2009 13:50 IST

Humanity goes into debt with nature

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In this 2007 file picture, the message 'CUT Co2' lights up on the face of the Le Meridien hotel in New Delhi, calling for urgent action to fight climate change. Photo: AP
In this 2007 file picture, the message 'CUT Co2' lights up on the face of the Le Meridien hotel in New Delhi, calling for urgent action to fight climate change. Photo: AP

Humanity went into debt on Friday, having used up all that the earth’s natural systems can produce this year, according to data from Global Footprint Network (GFN), a research organisation that measures the natural resources we have and we use.

A GFN spokesperson said over email that by this Friday, people had already demanded from the earth all the ecological services it can provide in the whole year —— from filtering the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to producing the raw material for food.

“From now till the end of the year, we will meet our ecological demand by depleting resource stocks and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” the spokesperson added.

Since the mid-1980s, humanity has been demanding ecological services faster than the planet can regenerate them, a condition known as ecological overshoot. We now use in less than 10 months the amount of resources it takes 12 months for nature to generate, according to GFN data.

“It’s a simple case of income versus expenditures,” said GFN president Mathis Wackernagel. “For years, our demand on nature has exceeded, by an increasingly greater margin, the budget of what nature can produce.

“The urgent threats we are seeing now —— most notably climate change, but also biodiversity loss, shrinking forests, declining fisheries, soil erosion and freshwater stress —— are all clear signs that nature is running out of credit to extend.”

GFN has calculated that humanity’s carbon footprint —— the amount of land and sea it would take to absorb all the carbon dioxide we emit —— has increased 10 times since 1961.

“Carbon dioxide emissions now account for over half of human demand on nature,” the spokesperson said. “We are now emitting much more carbon dioxide than the natural ecosystems of the planet can absorb; thus it is building up in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.”

In the past, Earth Overshoot Day has steadily moved four to six days closer to January 1 each year.

GFN arrived at this year’s Earth Overshoot Day figure on the basis of data from 2005 and projections based on historical rates of growth in population and consumption, as well as the historical link between world GDP and resource demand to account for the impact of the worldwide economic slowdown.



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