We've reached a milestone in our demand for Earth's natural resources, and it could have major consequences

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  • This year’s Earth Overshoot Day falls on August 1, the earliest it has ever been.
  • Renewable natural resources are being consumed 1.7 times faster than they can regenerate, according to the Global Footprint Network.
  • A large ecological footprint can cause a loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and deforestation, as well as more severe droughts and hurricanes around the world.

Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the moment our demand for natural resources exceeds what the planet can renew, falls on August 1 this year – the earliest it has ever been.

When calculating Earth Overshoot Day, the nonprofit Global Footprint Network considers how much food and other natural resources can grow in a year as well as how much carbon Earth can sequester. According to the nonprofit, resources are being consumed 1.7 times faster than they can regenerate. In other words, we would need 1.7 Earths to accommodate our current consumption levels.

Due to significant population growth, our consumption of renewable natural resources has exceeded the planet’s ability for renewal since the 1970s.

Food waste also plays a large role in the ecological footprint – a measure of the amount of natural resources needed to sustain a population at its current level. Roughly 33% of the food produced worldwide, or about 1.3 billion tons, is wasted or lost each year. In the United States, about half of the food produced goes to waste.

Carbon levels, which rise due to human activities like fossil fuel burning and deforestation, make up 60% of the ecological footprint. The Global Footprint Network says the world must reduce its carbon footprint to alleviate climate change and halt the ecological overshoot.

One of the main natural resources being depleted is water. The United Nations predicts that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries with total water scarcity. Anywhere from 24 million to 700 million people are expected to be displaced by 2030 due to water scarcity in arid regions.

Phosphorus, which is vital to the growth of plants, is also on the decline. Scientists from the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative predict that the world could run out of phosphorus within the next 100 years if new reserves of the element are not discovered.

The amount of oil in the world, meanwhile, is only expected to last another 50 years under 2017 production levels.

The impact of this overshoot is widely apparent, as our overuse of resources has led to soil erosion, reduced crop productivity, and species extinction. More severe droughts and hurricanes are occurring as well, since the overshoot involves rising carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change.

In the United States, fire seasons in California have been getting progressively worse, largely due to climate change and droughts. As for hurricanes, a study released in Nature earlier this year found that climate change is causing storms to stay in one location much longer than they did in the 20th century. A slow hurricane can be particularly harmful; When Hurricane Harvey stalled over Texas last year, the storm caused devastating floods and resulted in billions of dollars of damage.

The Global Footprint Network says ecological overshoot cannot last forever – at some point, ecosystems will start deteriorating and collapsing if the effects are not reversed.

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