Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

The world's resource bank is 'empty': Here's what that means

The world's resource bank is 'empty': Here's what that means

Natasha O'Neill

August 2, 2023

Humans have already used up Earth's natural resources for the year at a pace faster than the planet can regenerate them, a natural resources research organization says.

On August 2, 2023, the world marked Earth Overshoot Day, which signals the depletion of the planet's ecological resources(opens in a new tab) for the year.

Every day from today to the end of 2023, humans will carry a debt by continuing to take from nature and accumulating waste like carbon dioxide, according to data in a report from research organization the Global Footprint Network.

The demand we put on the environment has outpaced how the environment can regenerate those resources; like wood, water and plants.

The Global Footprint Network has marked Earth Overshoot Day each year since 1971.

"During the pandemic when we weren’t using quite as many resources, we actually did better, but now we're back to where we started," Eric Miller, director of the Ecological Footprint Initiative in York’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, said in a news release.

At the height of the pandemic, in 2020, the planet hit Earth Overshoot Day on Aug. 16, the latest it hit that milestone since 2009.

Miller said Earth Overshoot Day is like a bank account: one that humans have "once again" overdrawn. Instead of money, it is natural resources that humanity has used up.

 "Seven months into the year and the account is empty," he told in an interview. "When we draw more from nature that can be renewed in a period of a year, then we end up into sort of overshoot or overdraft."

The Global Footprint Network calculates the planet's biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year) and divides it by humanity's ecological footprint(opens in a new tab). Multiplying that number by 365 gives that year's Earth Overshoot Day.

The earliest humanity depleted Earth's resources for the year was Aug. 1, in 2018 and again in 2022, the Global Footprint Network says.

When researchers started calculating, the first Earth Overshoot Day was measured on Dec. 25, 1971(opens in a new tab), marking only a week where humans outpaced the environment.


Canadians experience what feels like an endless supply of water, trees and plants due to the amount of space the country has.

But Miller says treating these resources as finite is part of the issue.

"On a per-person basis, we have twice the ecological footprint as the average person in Germany," he said. "What's really significant for Canada is not only do we have a very high ecological footprint related to all the stuff that we consume, but it's even higher in terms of all the stuff that we produce."

Canada's ecological footprint involves the sum of several components, Miller said, including cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, building and infrastructure and forestry.

"We in Canada are 16th in the world on a per-person basis in terms of the ecological footprint of our consumption," Miller said. "We're sixth in the world in terms of what we call biocapacity, which is the amount of ecological footprint that can be sustained in terms of regenerative potential."

Trading of Canada's natural resources like timber is increasing the country's footprint.

"We're sort of well known for exporting a lot of timber products (and) fossil fuels," Miller said. "In exchange, we import software licenses and online streaming videos and that kind of stuff, which has a relatively lower footprint."

What is important to note about Canada's ecological footprint is that it contributes to whether the country can meet its "ambitious" net zero 2050 emission target, he said.

"Remaining greenhouse gas emissions that we emit in that year would have to be soaked up by the planet's capacity to do that in that same year," Miller said. "So there's no net increase in the stock of emissions in the atmosphere."  

Originally posted on CTV News