On Sept. 23 -- two weeks earlier than last year -- the world will have consumed all the natural resources the Earth will provide for this 12-month calendar year. We're building up "ecological debt" from there on out.
That's according to the calculations of the Global Footprint Network, which measures "how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what." (How much we use: 1.4 planet's worth, though by all accounts we only have one at our disposal.)
Think of this like the financial crisis rocking the U.S. economy, only this debt can't be bailed out at the 11th hour by taxpayers. And this debt will cost future generations in ways that go far beyond their mortgage payments.
Last year, we made it about a week into October on a year's worth of fresh water, energy, food, soil, forests and other natural resources. Whatever we use Wednesday, and each of the remaining 99 days of 2008 is on the tab we opened sometime in the 1987, and which we've been adding to each year since.
The question, of course, is how much credit we have, and who pays?
"From now until the end of the year, we're dipping into our ecological reserves, borrowing from the future," said Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of Global Footprint Network. "This can go on for a short time, but ultimately it leads to a build up of waste and the depletion of the very resources on which the human economy depends."
The global warming crisis has brought this calculation into focus for many, since our pollution will -- according to every credible scientific projection -- cost future generations dearly. Every day we stall doing something to rein in our carbon emissions is another day of suffering for someone else, some years in the future.
The Global Footprint Network report makes clear that the climate is only one the tabs we're asking others to pay. The loss of species, of forests, of freshwater, of fish, of viable farmland -- each of these are debts that will have to be paid. Put another way: We're eating the next generation's food, drinking their water and fouling their climate.
The good news is that there are strategies that each person, and each government can use to rein in our over-consumption, and bring our lifestyles back into balance with what the Earth can provide. The Global Footprint Network, for instance, recommends eating less meat, taking fewer flights and using less energy as a start. (Determine your personal footprint by using the group's calculator, and get daily tips for reducing your impact.) Voting for those leaders who will promote sustainable development, renewable energy development and conservation is also critical.
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