Earth Overshoot Day: What it is and why it matters

Earth Overshoot Day, probably the single most important day of every year ecologically speaking, has come and gone in 2019 already. Earth Overshoot Day is the day of the year that humans use up all of the world’s resources – more than the planet can regenerate in a year. And this year, it came earlier than ever.

According to the Global Footprint Network, humans are using up global resources almost two times faster than the Earth can regenerate per year. After we use it, the Earth needs to replace it, but can’t. Initially conceptualized by Andrew Simms, a member of the U.K. think tank New Economics Foundation, Earth Overshoot Day originally fell in October of 2006.

We hit Earth Overshoot Day on July 29 this year – the earliest ever.

How do you calculate when Earth Overshoot Day happens? Supply and demand have a lot to do with it. Called the “biocapacity” on the supply side, it represents:

“…Biologically productive land and sea area, including forest lands, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land.”

After considering all of the available supply, factor in the demand, or the ecological footprint. This considers our demand for:

“…Plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.”

Essentially, take humans’ demand for natural resources and compare it with what’s available globally. And currently, we’re using much more than the Earth can produce in a year. According to the founder of the Global Footprint Network, Mathis Wackernagel:

“We have only got one Earth – this is the ultimate defining context for human existence. We can’t use 1.75 without destructive consequences.”

This information comes after the United Nations reported that if the world lived like Americans, we humans would need at least five Earths to support the global population.

earth overshoot day

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We have to act fast. If we don’t make the changes necessary now to reduce our ecological footprint, not only will Earth see a global ecological disaster, but it will also create a global health emergency. Most notably it could lead to “millions of deaths from air pollution in Asia, the Middle East and Africa,” according to the report. Pollution of freshwaters could also lead to “antimicrobial-resistant infections,” which are notoriously difficult to get under control.

However, the authors of the UN report stress that we have the “science, technology and money” to fix the problem, and just by cutting carbon dioxide emissions by just 50 percent would be enough to move Earth Overshoot day back by 93 days. That’s just over three months. They also say we could theoretically support up to 10 billion people, which is how many humans are projected to live on Earth by 2050.


Featured Image by DarkWorkX via Pixabay


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