Vocalization about concerns over climate change has continued to grow and contribute to the rising shift towards sustainable living options. It challenges the way we use Earth’s resources from the way we source them to the way we consume them and everything in between. This is where Earth Overshoot Day comes into play.
What is Earth Overshoot Day?
Earth Overshoot Day, calculated by the Global Footprint Network, illustrates the imbalance between human consumption and Earth's capacity to renew resources. It's the date on which humanity's ecological footprint – the sum of carbon emissions, overuse of forests, and depletion of fisheries – surpasses the Earth's biocapacity. In other words, we're using up resources faster than the planet can regenerate them.
How is it calculated?
Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by dividing the planet’s biocapacity by humanity’s ecological footprint and then multiplying by 365.
(Planet’s Biocapacity/Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day
The planet’s biocapacity refers to the amount of ecological resources generated that year. Humanity’s ecological footprint refers to the demand for resources that year and 365 is the number of days in a year.
The first overshoot day was December 25, 1971, with historical data calculated each year with updated metrics in order to make fair comparisons with current calculations. Since then, Earth Overshoot Day has become earlier and earlier in the year with this year (2023) being August 2nd.
Country Overshoot Days
Country overshoot days represent when the Earth Overshoot Day would be if everyone lived like that country. For example, if the world lived like India, there would be no Earth Overshoot Day, meaning that human demand would not outpace the planet’s biocapacity. However, Earth Overshoot Day would be March 13th, 2023 if everyone lived like the United States of America. This is important to show the disproportionate impact that certain countries have on climate change and environmental impact, and also may not be the ones who are the most vulnerable or facing the consequences in a proportionate manner to their impact.
Consequences of Ecological Debt
Climate Change: One of the most prevalent consequences of ecological debt is climate change. The overuse of resources has led to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn contributes to rising temperatures, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events.
Biodiversity Loss: Overconsumption directly impacts ecosystems, leading to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. As species lose their natural habitats, the delicate balance of ecosystems is disrupted, affecting not only wildlife but also human livelihoods that depend on these ecosystems.
Resource Scarcity: When we overshoot Earth's biocapacity, we deplete essential resources like freshwater, fertile soil, and forests faster than they can regenerate. The result of resource scarcity can already be seen and will continue to lead to conflict over basic necessities of life. This risks national security as habitable land and important resources become scarce.
Taking Steps Towards Sustainability
Reducing Carbon Footprint: The transition to a sustainable future is a focus for many at all different levels from individual to city and beyond. One way to reduce our carbon footprint is transitioning to renewable energy sources, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and adopting energy-efficient technologies that can significantly lower carbon emissions.
Sustainable Agriculture: Food systems are not only important for survival, but also contribute to global emissions. Embracing sustainable farming practices like regenerative agriculture and organic farming can help restore soil health for higher crop yields and prepare it for future generations.
Conservation Efforts: Protecting and restoring natural habitats, as well as supporting wildlife conservation initiatives can help halt biodiversity loss. Biodiversity loss is detrimental to ecosystems that are essential to survival, ensuring natural systems are able to provide the resources we need.
Waste Reduction: Minimizing waste through recycling, reusing, and reducing single-use plastics can mitigate the pressure on landfills and ecosystems. Reducing waste and the necessity for new resource extraction helps decrease associated emissions and littering that affect wildlife.
Earth Overshoot Day serves as a stark reminder of our unsustainable practices and the urgent need to change our trajectory. By acknowledging the consequences of ecological debt and taking active steps towards sustainable living, we can work together to push back Earth Overshoot Day, giving our planet a chance to heal and regenerate. It's not just a responsibility but a collective opportunity to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for all living beings.