We all understand budgeting with money. If a household makes $50,000 in a year, then $50,000 is the most they should spend in a year. To spend more, they would have to overdraw their checking account or run up their credit card balance – practices that can quickly lead to financial disaster.
Ecosystem services need to be budgeted, too. The Earth “pays” us various resources, like food, wood, clean water, and breathable air. These resources continually replenish themselves, which is why we call them “renewable”.
However, even renewable resources only renew so fast. Each year, the Earth only generates a certain amount of the products and services we need. To budget wisely, we should make sure we aren’t using these services faster than the Earth can provide more of them.
Unfortunately, right now we’re not living within our ecosystem budget. Between last January 1st and today – August 8th – humans have collectively used as many resources as the Earth will produce in all of 2016. In other words, it’s taken us just over seven months to use up resources that our planet needs an entire year to generate.
That’s why today is called Earth Overshoot Day. But don’t mark your calendar for August 8th, 2017 – unlike other holidays, Earth Overshoot Day gets earlier every year. That is, we’re using up resources faster and faster, and wiping out the plants and animals that provide those resources, thus slowing down the rate at which the Earth can produce more of the things we need.
In 2015, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 13th. As recently as 2009, it was in September. And in 1970, we just barely overspent our ecological income, using up a year’s worth of resources on December 23rd.
This isn’t a sustainable path. By taking less from the Earth, and putting back more, we can live within our ecological means.