The responsibility of our generation

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feldmann_cropBy Fabio Feldmann
[Read a version of this blog post in Portuguese here.]

Since the 1950’s, humanity has reached unprecedented consumption patterns, providing undeniable material progress. It is hard to imagine that at the time of our parents and grandparents, cities coexisted with trams and trains and cars were relatively rare, except for some American cities. Agriculture consisted of a few products without access to the technology of fertilizers, manure and pesticides. In the communications field, we have seen the spread of telephone, telex, radio and television, and of course the Internet.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, we learned that such heavy industrialization and increasing consumption brought a huge price to the environment in terms of pollution and limits to natural resources. In the 1970’s, the book “The Limits to Growth” warns about the threats to the planet. In 1972, the United Nations organized the first major Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, called “Man and the Biosphere”, which stated that the technological and socio-economic processes associated with “development” were compromising the quality of life on Earth. Scientist Rachel Carson in her book “Silent Spring” warns about the impact of pesticides on the environment. Thus, a worldwide awareness about the civilization of consumption begins.

The Age of the Anthropocene

It was only in the 1980’s, with the confirmation of the destruction of the ozone layer, that the criticism took form as an undeniable proof that humanity is able to cause dramatic changes to the planet. Most recently, some scientists have claimed that we are living in the age of the Anthropocene, meaning that humankind has been exerting “geological forces” on the planet and on the living systems that sustain it.

Due to these actions, the idea of planetary boundaries (planetary boundaries) has gained momentum, and several scientists now claim that we must get ready for extremely severe scenarios and dramatic consequences. Scientific studies indicate the existence of these planetary boundaries. We can highlight one of them, published in the Nature Journal (Vol. 461 – 09/24/2009), by Johan Rockstrom, one of the authors and Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

The authors identified nine cases in which it is necessary to define planetary boundaries, concluding that three of them have had their limits transgressed so far: climate change; biodiversity loss rate (terrestrial and marine) and interference with the nitrogen cycle. Global freshwater usage, changes in land use, ocean acidification and interference in the phosphorus cycle are already reaching their limits.

The Ecological Footprint

Given this scenario, there is a great effort in trying to quantify the impact we cause on the environment. Then, the idea of Ecological Footprints emerges, co-developed first by Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and co-founder of Global Footprint Network, in order to reveal what individuals, businesses, cities, and countries demand from nature and highlight the role of governments in managing our natural capital more wisely to ensure all live well, within the means of our planet. Global Footprint Network’s data shows that this year, on August 8, our global population has used more resources than the planet can regenerate in the entire year. We call this day Earth Overshoot Day.

Eating habits, choices on clothing and transportation, purchase of household appliances at the individual level, combined with decisions about highways and infrastructure and how we build our cities, at the government level, have local and global impacts, and the most visible today is represented by global warming.

Our generation has greater responsibility for the future of the planet. The most important scientific studies point to the need for a dramatic reduction in the release of greenhouse gases in the next three decades. In case it does not occur, the change of the climate system may compromise food production, cause large-scale natural disasters, require the resettlement of populations from coastal areas…

In simple words, we have to radically change the consumption patterns practiced today, and understand that the paradigm of consuming more and more does not bring welfare and happiness. On the contrary, it destroys the maintainability of natural processes and from a social point of view, it increases inequality. Sustainability and sustainable development mean to create conditions so that we can rethink the idea that economic growth itself is able to promote the satisfaction of material and non-material needs of our society.

From Autos to Apps

The car, the main symbol of the last century, does not meet the requirements for mobility in urban centers. On the contrary, cities are increasingly congested and polluted, and young people are showing much greater openness to public and non-motorized transport options. Cycling and “walking on foot” allow people to move and benefit from the urban landscape in a different way. More and more, digital apps stimulate what is now called the sharing economy. In the same direction, the expansion of solar energy allows self-sustainability and the generation of revenue by commercializing their surpluses.

If it is true that humanity’s demand on nature has exceeded the capacity of complex ecosystems to continue providing environmental services and their corresponding natural resources, it is also undeniable that there is an ongoing revolution of values and new lifestyle impositions. This sets up the hope that our generation will be able to leave a legacy of dignity and sustainability.

Fabio Feldmann is business leader, lawyer and environmental activist. A member of Global Footprint Network’s Advisory Council, Feldman was responsible for preparing the chapter on the environment in the Brazilian Constitution. Learn more about him here

This article was first published by the Museu do Amanhã. Visit the museum’s Earth Overshoot Day website at

Switzerland has utilized more natural resources and services than its own ecosystems can provide for the year

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Today marks the date Switzerland has exhausted its annual ecological budget, utilizing more natural resources and services than Swiss ecosystems can regenerate within the full year. This date has been calculated by Global Footprint Network, a research institute with offices in Europe, North America and Asia.

“We have such a high Ecological Footprint, it would take almost three planets to support the world’s population if everyone lived the way we do in Switzerland. That’s a challenge we need to address,” said Michel Tschirren, Policy Advisor Green Economy and Trade at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. The Swiss, for example, consume twice as much food as they can produce, relying heavily on imports. The carbon Footprint makes up 74 percent of the Swiss Ecological Footprint.

“As a country, we’re well-endowed with human and financial capital, but we haven’t paid sufficient attention to ecological constraints, such as the ability of our ecosystems to absorb excess carbon from fossil fuels and provide biomass for energy and food,” added Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and co-founder of Global Footprint Network. “If a Swiss resident had consumed its entire annual budget in the first 82 days of the year, both she and her bank would be worried. The same should apply to our natural resources, because they are essential to our existence.”

Identifying risks and opportunities

A country can use more natural resources and services than its ecosystems can regenerate by liquidating its own ecological assets and/or emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The consequences include fisheries collapse, deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change. In addition, a country can use more resources than its ecosystems can regenerate by importing goods from other countries.

“At Global Footprint Network, we recognize trade is the necessary and beneficial component of healthy relationships between nations in a globalized economy,” Wackernagel added. “We also believe heavy dependence on imports for natural resources, in a world where population and demand continue increasing, can turn into a significant risk for all countries, including high-income countries such as Switzerland.”

Upcoming Workshops

To spark a dialogue on the key issues of energy conservation, natural resources consumption and economic performance, Global Footprint Network will host workshops in May 2016. The goal is to help raise awareness and facilitate a necessary, informed public debate ahead of several upcoming initiatives that aim to address high resource consumption. These include the Energy Strategy 2050, Efficiency Initiative and the Green Economy Initiative. Adèle Thorens Goumaz, Initiative for a Green Economy: “These initiatives should make us hopeful. However, after each parliamentary debate and election these initiatives have been watered down.”

Register to attend a workshop for a sustainable Switzerland at

From outdoor party to environmental awareness, a student’s view of Earth Hour in China

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When I was growing up in Shenzhen, China, one of the must-join activities in my high school was the “Earth Hour” performance. On the last Saturday in March, companies, government, and environmental organizations run by high school students organized performances and games using only small lights (rather than bright stage lighting) in large communities to encourage residents to join outdoor activities while turning off their lights at home. The performance that I remember most was a student band and chorus performing in the dark, without any lights at all. In that darkness, we seemed to be able to hear the music more clearly and enjoy it more.

To this day, about half of the lights are turned off in government buildings and public areas—on streets and in squares—in Shenzhen to support Earth Hour. Words such as “1 Hour,” “60 Minutes,” and “3600 Seconds” are spelled out with LED lights and can be seen everywhere in the city.

As a high school student seven years ago, I perceived Earth Hour more as an outdoor party than a significant effort to protect our planet. As a young professional today, I have come to recognize that in one hour of darkness, we are doing more than just turning off lights. Empowered by knowledge of the Ecological Footprint from my studies at UC Berkeley and work at Global Footprint Network, I now consider Earth Hour as a great opportunity for everyone to review our relationship with the entire ecosystem and at the same time raise environmental consciousness.

The human population worldwide is using 1.6 times more natural resources and services—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing—than our planet can regenerate in a year, according to Global Footprint Network’s calculations. If we translate this data to Earth Hour, it means that the natural resources and services that our planet can regenerate in one hour will be used after 37 minutes.

This year, I will be nearly 7,000 miles away from my hometown in China on Earth Hour, but I still plan to participate. My plan: Climb the Berkeley Hills to overlook the San Francisco Bay Area in the dark! I also will encourage everyone I know to participate in Earth Hour, no matter where they are, to reduce energy consumption and give a one-hour break to our beautiful planet’s ecosystems.

Krina_cropKrina Huang graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in Environmental Economics and Policy and in Political Economy. After working at Global Footprint Network as an intern earlier this year, she joined their staff as a research assistant to support new initiatives in China.

National Footprint Accounts 2016 are out! Carbon makes up 60% of world’s Ecological Footprint

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video-screenshotGlobal Footprint Network launches its 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts today, featuring a refined carbon Footprint calculation.

The updated calculation has revealed that the global carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated, with a consequent 8 percent increase in the global Ecological Footprint. The carbon Footprint makes up 60 percent of the world’s Ecological Footprint.

We are happy to make the National Footprint Accounts available in a free downloadable version for research, education and non-commercial purposes (scroll down for more details). An interactive map and country rankings based on the National Footprint Accounts 2016 are available at Watch a video explaining the National Footprint Accounts here. If you are interested in attending a webinar on the Footprint Accounts, please email

The annual maintenance of the National Footprint Accounts involves incorporating the most recent data (2012) from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Comtrade database, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and other sources.

Read more from Global Footprint Network

Event: On The Road To Paris, Sept. 22

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EOD2015_Event_poster250Join GLOBE EU, the Global Legislators Organization for Balanced Environment and Global Footprint Network in marking Earth Overshoot Day–the date when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Contribute to the discussion with academics, representatives from civil society, forward-looking businesses and international organizations on how to prevent Earth Overshoot Day from happening earlier every year and how a global climate deal in Paris can make this happen.

The event is on 22 September from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at the European Parliament, room JAN 6Q1 in Brussels, Belgium.

To register, email Sirpa Pietikainen MEP.

Ecuador impulsa nuevas iniciativas para reducir la huella ecológica

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ecuador_smallLa Huella Ecológica es una herramienta utilizada para medir la demanda de recursos naturales de la humanidad sobre la capacidad regenerativa de nuestro planeta, conocida como Biocapacidad mundial. Entonces, mediante el cálculo de la huella ecológica podemos evaluar el impacto sobre el planeta de un determinado modo o forma de vida y compararlo con la biocapacidad del planeta; con el fin de trabajar en acciones que logren remediar el impacto ambiental generado por las personas.

Ver más: Ministerio del Ambiente

Survey: Less than half of Americans are very aware of natural resource constraints

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Tetra Pak and Global Footprint Network poll reveals that sharing information about resource scarcity impacts consumer behaviors.

Although resoutetrapak_crop300rce constraints are not a top-of-mind issue for American consumers, attitudes, actions and perceptions shift when knowledge and information about resource scarcity is shared, according to a survey from Tetra Pak Inc. undertaken with Global Footprint Network and published today.

The findings come as the world marks Earth Overshoot Day, the day humanity has used up nature’s budget for the entire year. Humanity’s demand on the planet has moved Earth Overshoot Day from early October in 2000 to August 13this year. Carbon sequestration makes up more than half of that demand, according to Global Footprint Network.

Only 41 percent of respondents reported being very aware of the issue of resource constraints in the survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers by Tetra Pak and Global Footprint nNetwork. However, an overwhelming number of respondents (86 percent) said that if they knew that using renewable packaging helped reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change, it would impact their choice of packaging. This was particularly the case with women—90 percent of women would choose renewable packaging if they knew it would help cut carbon emissions vs. 77 percent of men.

“With the heightened focus on climate change ahead of the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris in December, it is important not to overlook the role that renewable materials and renewable packaging can play in keeping the climate in balance,” said Elisabeth Comere, Director, Environment & Government Affairs, Tetra Pak Inc., USA.

“Our survey confirms our belief that with information and education, consumers will respond favorably to the need to pay closer attention to resource challenges and change their individual actions, including making more environmentally responsible decisions around packaging,” Commere added.

The survey also explored specific actions respondents would be willing to do to conserve natural resources, such as pay more for water and restrict use, or search for clean, renewable energy alternatives.

The top three actions that respondents said they would be willing to take were seeking out food or beverages that came in renewable packaging. buying locally grown food as much as possible, and buying only the food that a household was going to consume and consuming all the food bought.

”How we meet our basic needs—including food—is a powerful way to shape sustainability. Eating food from local sources and reducing our reliance on animal protein can lower the Ecological Footprint,” said Mathis Wackernagel, president and co-founder of Global Footprint Network. ”When we buy packaged foods, opting for packaging made from renewable materials also contributes to a lower Ecological Footprint.”

Overwhelmingly, respondents (81 percent) said that no one group (individuals, industry, government) is especially responsible for addressing natural resource constraints. They also support the need to do more—from changing their own behaviors to recognizing the need for companies to consider all facets of the lifecycle of products and packaging.

More information on the survey of U.S. consumers

More information on Tetra Pak’s Moving to the Front Campaign



Support Earth Overshoot Day by joining our Thunderclap

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On August 13, let’s take action to live within the ecological budget of our planet!

August 13 is Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. In less than eight months, humanity has used up nature’s budget for the entire year, with carbon sequestration making up more than half of the demand on nature.

We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ecological overshoot is possible only for a limited time before ecosystems begin to degrade and possibly collapse, as we are currently experiencing through water shortages, desertification, soil erosion, reduced cropland productivity, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid species extinction, fisheries collapse and increased carbon concentration in the atmosphere.

The climate talks at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 this December may require nations to implement policies to phase out fossil fuels, which would directly impact humanity’s Ecological Footprint. Join us in a global agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Show your support via Twitter, Facebook or both, and also spread the word to your friends and followers to do the same.

Click here to join our Thunderclap!

Aug. 12: Reddit AMA with Mathis Wackernagel, Global Footprint Network

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Check out Reddit at 1 apm. PST August 12 for an “Ask Me Anything” with Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network.

Here is more information, as posted on Reddit:

Hello Redditors!

I am Mathis Wackernagel, the co-inventor of the Ecological Footprint and the co-founder of Global Footprint Network. I am from Switzerland originally, but now live in California.

Our calculations show that we are using the natural resources equivalent to 1.6 planets. In other words, humanity’s demand on the planet is 60 percent larger than what the planet can renew. It is like spending 60 percent more than what we are earning. As a consequence we are using up Earth’s savings.

Similarly, our calculations show that we would need four Earths if everyone lived like Americans. Or three Earths if they lived like Danes.

Because we use more than what Earth can renew, we eat through the annual budget of nature way before the year ends. In fact, August 13 is Earth Overshoot Day, the date when we have exhausted the planet’s ecological budget for 2015. The date fell in October back in 2000.

We calculate those dates through our Ecological Footprint accounts. They track how much biologically productive space we have in the world, in the US, or in California. And then we can compare this to how much biologically productive space is needed for all that we consume—food, fiber, timber—and also to absorb our waste, particularly CO2 from fossil fuel burning.

You may want to test the results. This is what we have done with about 12 nations and international organizations ( They have confirmed the findings.

You can find out more about Earth Overshoot Day at, which will go live on Tuesday, August 11.