WE ARE consuming the Earth's resources faster than they can be replenished, at least according to US think tank Global Footprint Network. It declared 9 October "overshoot day" - the point in each year when our ecological allowance for that year is spent.

GFN's eco-audits began in 1961, and overshoot day has fallen ever earlier since its first occurrence, on 19 December 1987. Now it will take 15 months for the world to regenerate what we use in 2006.

"Humanity is living off its ecological credit card and can only do this by liquidating the planet's natural resources," says Mathis Wackernagel, GFN's executive director. "While this can be done for a short while, overshoot ultimately leads to the depletion of resources such as the forests, oceans and agricultural land upon which our economy depends."

But not everyone is pessimistic. The European Centre for International Political Economy thinks that the GFN analyses dwell on the global picture but ignore the potential for solutions. For example, says CIPE director Julian Morris, forests in richer countries tend to be managed sustainably. "By being totally negative, [GFN] detracts from solutions that are out there."

From issue 2573 of New Scientist magazine, 14 October 2006, page 7