Earth Overshoot Day: An Anthropocene Fable

By David Middleton – Re-Blogged From

I think future historians will be amazed at how the Anthropocene was filled with more myths and fables than the combined cultures of ancient Greece, Rome and wherever Thor came from…

Earth Overshoot Dayr

By August 2, 2017, we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year.

We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.

“At some point, we risk going from having rare resources to having resource shortages”


My personal Overshoot Day probably falls in early January… Now, I’ll use their calculator… And the result is:

Earth Overshoot Dayw

Damn!  My Earth Overshoot Day is in late January!  I need to drive more!

On the bright side, most of my overshoot is a HUGE carbon footprint:

Earth Overshoot Dayx

I wonder if I can get extra overshoot credit due to the fact that I’ve been part of discovering a lot more oil & natural gas than I’ve personally consumed?

Now that I’ve had fun ridiculing this particular Anthropocene fable, here’s Bjorn Lomborg’s most excellent debunking of it…

One Planet Is Enough

Published on August 2, 2017 Featured in: Green Business

Bjorn Lomborg, President at Copenhagen Consensus Center

We often hear the story of humans voraciously exploiting the world’s resources and living way beyond Earth’s means. On “Earth Overshoot Day”, campaigners such as the Global Footprint Network claim that, by August 2, we have already exhausted this year’s supply of natural resources and Earth is now sliding into “ecological debt” for the rest of 2017.

For more than a decade, the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation organizations have performed complicated calculations to determine our total “ecological footprint” on the planet. In their narrative, population growth and higher standards of living mean that we are now using 1.7 planets and are depleting resources so quickly that by 2030, we would need two planets to sustain us. If everyone were to suddenly rise to American living standards, we would need almost five planets. The message is unequivocal – WWF tells us we face a looming “ecological credit crunch”, risking “a large-scale ecosystem collapse.”

But this scare is almost completely fallacious. The ecological footprint tries to assess all our usage of area and compare it with how much is available. At heart, this is a useful exercise, and like any measure that tries to aggregate many different aspects of human behavior, it tends to simplify its inputs.


In total, all of the somewhat problematically defined areas sum to 67% of the world’s biologically productive area. There seems to be little problem here – one earth is clearly enough.

What makes the ecological footprint exceed the available land is CO₂ emissions. Clearly it is not obvious how to translate CO₂ into land area. So the ecological footprint decided to get around this by defining the area of emissions as the area of forest needed to soak up the extra CO2. This single factor makes up 101% of the planetary land area and is the only reason why we suddenly need more than one planet.

In essence, we are being told that we ought to cut CO₂ to zero, and to plant trees to achieve that, meaning that we’d have to plant forests today on all of the planet’s available area. Since we’re already using 67% that’s why they can tell us that we’re running out of planet. But that message is clearly unreasonable.


We clearly use less than one planet, and looking into the future with better agricultural and renewable technology, the use is likely going to diminish. Instead of panicking over prophecies of unsustainable footprints, we should focus on the matters at hand: pulling millions more out of poverty while funding the sort of innovation that will eliminate future risks of pollution and make our land more productive. That way, we will ensure that one Earth keeps being enough for all of us.


Dr. Lomborg’s logical approach to environmental issues is always refreshing.  I always keep copy of The Skeptical Environmentalist handy.


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