Global overshoot 

December 13 [Fri], 2013, 16:27
The primary data for these annual calculations come from sources that are as official as it gets: statistics from the U.N. and related international agencies. For example, data on agricultural and livestock production come from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and is the same data the World Bank and other global institutions rely on; carbon emissions data come from the International Energy Agency; estimates of average values of carbon sequestration by the world’s forests are those used in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

These data sets, although certainly not perfect, are the most widely accepted ones; as they improve, so will the accuracy of the Footprint accounts. Global Footprint The right bulb Network provides the core Footprint accounts used internationally.

Again by design, when there is uncertainty involved, the methodology used to generate the Footprint accounts tends to err on the side of underestimating demand and overestimating supply. This conservative approach helps ensure that, if humanity is exceeding ecological limits, the extent of the problem will not be exaggerated. Even given this conservative methodology, the accounts indicate that at the global scale, the rate at which humanity is using ecological resources currently is overshooting their regeneration by more than 50 percent. This is sometimes expressed as “humanity is using the capacity of 1.5 Earths.”

Given that there is limited area on the surface of the planet that is biologically productive―cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds and forest―overshoot means that there is not sufficient productive area to support our current level of consumption. People’s various demands on nature compete for use of this limited area, and these demands can be added up.

Ecological Footprint accounting measures the area of productive surface required to regenerate the biomass needed to keep up with demand, whether for fiber or timber, food or land to sequester carbon emissions from fossil fuel. Some types of productive area, such as cropland, are typically used at full capacity―we essentially harvest all the resources that are produced. In other areas, such as fishing grounds and forest, resources may be harvested at a rate faster than they are renewed. This is possible because there is a stock of fish or timber that exceeds the amount that is regenerated ever year.

With global overshoot, we have reached the point where there is competition for the productive area required to meet our various consumption demands. For example, food production may be expanded by converting forest into cropland. But this comes at a cost―reduced production of forest resources, which mean either fewer trees available to harvest for wood and wood products and/or fewer trees left standing to absorb and incorporate our carbon emissions. Footprint accounting makes these trade-offs clear.
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