York calculates that world has overshot sustainable use of natural resources  


TORONTO, Aug. 20, 2020 – By Saturday, humanity will have overdrawn its ecological account for the year. Known as Earth Overshoot Day, it’s the day when humans will have used as much from the Earth as the planet can renew in a year.  York University produces the data that informs this calculation.

The good news is that Earth Overshoot Day this year – August 22 – arrives 21 days later than in 2019.  Coronavirus-induced lockdowns around the world have reduced the burning of fossil fuels and reduced wood harvests. Even so, the world will demand more from nature than can be renewed this year.

York University has partnered with the Global Footprint Network to calculate the Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity of every nation on the planet.  This data is needed to determine Earth Overshoot Day.

“At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the true scale of our global interconnectedness, we have an opportunity to leverage partnership and collaboration to overcome complex global challenges like inequality, COVID-19, and of course, climate change,” says President & Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “York is proud to provide leadership through an international research collaboration like the Ecological Footprint initiative that helps countries determine whether they are on track to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, and gives us the data to calculate Earth Overshoot Day.”

headshot of Eric Miller, FESEric Miller leads a team of researchers and graduate students in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies to produce the National Footprint Accounts for the Footprint Data Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit organization.

Miller and his team measure the carbon footprint, the amount of built-up land or urban sprawl, how much forest is used for timber and paper, how much cropland and pasture is used to produce food and the amount of seafood fished every year.  These all add up to humanity’s Ecological Footprint.

Since 1970, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has overshot the capacity of nature to sustain it.  The resulting ecological debt has been an accumulation of carbon pollution in the atmosphere and declines in biodiversity.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we must rebuild our economies for well-being and sustainability.  We need regenerative economies that use natural resources at rates that can be sustained,” says Miller.

York’s measurement of the Ecological Footprint helps to inform individuals, communities, and governments to make better decisions on how to better manage resources, reduce economic risk and improve well-being.

Researchers and students, who work on the accounts at York University, are available to discuss the Ecological Footprint or Earth Overshoot Day.


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Media Contact:

Sandra McLean, York University Media Relations, 416-272-6317, sandramc@yorku.ca