Whereas in 1972 humans were using 85 percent of the regenerative capacity of the biosphere to support economic activities such as growing food, producing goods and assimilating pollutants, the figure is now at 150 percent—and growing. Most worrying, greenhouse gases are being emitted twice as fast as oceans and forests can absorb them.

“I see collapse happening already. Food per capita is going down, energy is becoming more scarce, groundwater is being depleted.” says Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of the original Limits to Growth study.


What is Ecological Footprint?

The Global Footprint Network is an non-profit organization that is a leading exponent of Ecological Footprint measurement and education. It defines Ecological Footprint as:

a measure of how much area of biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology and resource management practices.

The Ecological Footprint is usually measured in global hectares. Because trade is global, an individual or country’s Footprint includes land or sea from all over the world.

Figure 1: Ecological Footprint (Source: Global Footprint Network)


Interactive ecological footprint – hover over each country for specific footprint details (via chartsbin.com)

The Global Ecological Footprint


Figure 2: Planet Equivalents of Earths (Source: Global Footprint Network)


Today humanity uses the planet equivalents of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. Another way to conceive what this means is that now, it takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. This is called Earth Overshoot and in effect, it means we are borrowing from the future of the planet. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us and by 2050, three earths.  Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.

As you can see from the above graph, only Africa, Oceana and Latin America have not exceeded the available biocapacity of their environment. All other continents have exceeded their biocapacity with the United States and Canada the worst offenders. High income countries on average exceed their biocapacity a whopping 30x greater than low income countries.


Since 1980, humanity has exceeded it’s total biocapacity. This means that the planet is no longer able to restore what we harvest from it.

Going into Overshoot

If we are to maintain stable societies and good lives, we can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require. 

- Dr. Mathis Wackernagel of Global Footprint Network

Earth Overshoot day is the date each year when Humanity surpassed nature’s budget for the year and is operating in overdraft.  In In other words, Earth Overshoot day is the day in the year when we demanded a level of ecological services – from producing food, water & raw materials to filtering our carbon dioxide emissions—equivalent to what the planet can provide for the entire year. From an ecological standpoint, we have effectively spent our annual salary, with the remainder of the year still needing resources.

In 2011, Earth Overshoot occurred on Sept 27. In 2012, it occurred on Aug 22.

“From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means,” said Global Footprint Network President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel.

Global Footprint Network’s preliminary 2011 calculations showed that we are now using resources at a rate it would take between 1.2 and 1.5 planets to sustainably support.  If we continue on the course estimated by moderate United Nations projections for increasing population and consumption, well before mid-century, we will need the capacity of two Earths to keep up with our level of demand.


Figure 3: Earth Overshoot Gauge for 2011 (Source: Global Footprint Network)



Figure 4: Earth Overshoot 1961 to 2012 (Source: Global Footprint Network)


Breakdown of Ecological Footprint by Nations



Figure 5: Global footprint map of the world, featuring United States  (Source: Global Footprint Network)

Human beings, like other animals, need resources to maintain life. Because of our capacity to think, Homo Sapien has raced far beyond other species to become the dominant species on the planet. The Ecological Footprint is the measure of how much resources we need to maintain life. For each country, it is often expressed as hectares of resource rich land per capita. A value of 1 is exactly at the balance point. Anything under means that we are within our ecological limits but anything over means we are consuming resources at a higher rate than the ecological system can replenish.

From the graphs below, one can see that most countries are above 1. Hence we are eating into our future capacity to replenish stocks.


Figure 5a: Ecological Footprint of various countries (Source Global Footprint Network 2006)       Figure 1b: Global Econonomic Footprint of Various Countries (Source: StanfordKay Studios)

Figure 6: Worldmapper Ecological Footprint. Bloated Countries have a larger Ecological Footprint while Skinny Countries have smaller Ecological Footprint


Net Primary Production

Net Primary Production (NPP)  is a measure of how much biomass nature produces. Full detailed discussion can be found here.  Human Appropriated Net Primary Production (HANPP) is the biomass that human beings have appropriated from nature for our species own use. There are a variety of definitions of HANPP and the most recent findings may range from 20% to 40% of the planetary biomass.

Table 1: Overview of estimates of global HANPP given by different authors. (Source: EOEarth.org)


Figure 7: Human Appropriate of Net Primary Production Map as a Percentage of NPP0 (Source: Alpen Adria University, Institute of Social Ecology)

Calculate your Personal Footprint

Click on the graphics below to calculate your personal footprint




Figure 8: Country footprints 2013 (Source: Global Footprint Network)