What is Earth Overshoot Day and why we are in debt to the Earth

Overshoot Day marks the point when humanity has used up the Earth’s resources for a year. And the date comes earlier and earlier every year.

All animal and plant species populating the Planet live in symbiosis with nature. They don’t take too much from it and don’t damage it, otherwise they would be the first to be affected. This is true for all species, expect for humans (Homo sapiens).

white headed capuchin
White-headed capuchin (Cebus capucinus) in Corcovado National Park , Costa Rica © Lorenzo Brenna

What is Earth Overshoot Day 

Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity used more from nature than what Earth can regenerate in the whole year. The date, which varies from year to year depending on how fast such resources are exploited, is calculated by the Global Footprint Network (GFN), an international organisation that assesses humanity’s ecological footprint.

Why Overshoot Day lands earlier every year

This disquieting deadline lands earlier every year, depicting a grimmer future for our species. It’s like we’re speeding our car towards a cliff and we can’t see where the precipice begins, but we know it’s approaching. And the only way to avoid it is to make a u-turn. Humanity started to consume more than the Planet produces in the early 1970s and since then the deadline is brought forward every year (in 1975 it fell on 28 November), due to population growth and increased consumption on a global level.

We need 1.7 planets

According to the GFN, the world population is using as much as 1.7 planets a year, a figure that is thought to increase to 2 planets by 2030. Yet, we only have one planet. “Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network and co-creator of the Ecological Footprint. “Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future. Ultimately, moving back the date of Earth Overshoot Day on the calendar is the name of the game”.

Overfishing is emptying the world’s seas. We’re using too many natural resources, making land Earth Overshoot Day earlier every year

Overshoot Day 2019

Earth Overshoot Day has never landed so early: on 29 July. Even though this is an obviously negative trend, we’re still in time to contrast a complete ecological collapse. Moving the date by only five days would allow us to reach a balance with the resources produced annually by the planet before 2050.

Overshoot Day 2018

 1 August in 2018. We’re using natural resources at an unsustainable pace. In 1970, Overshoot Day was on 29 December. Since then, we’ve lost 30 days of self-sufficiency from the planet every ten years.

Overshoot Day 2017 

The trend is relentlessly continuing, with 2 August marking Earth Overshoot Day in 2017. The date has never fallen so early since the 1970s, when we started abusing the Planet’s natural resources.

Overshoot Day 2016 

In 2016 our debt with the Earth started on 8 August, more than four months ahead of the end of the year. Due to a steady gowth of the world population and our binge on resources, we are using natural resources quickier than in the past.

Forests, thanks to photosynthesis, are our best allies in reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. Deforestation produces 12 to 20 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, significantly contributing to global warming © Ingimage deforestation

Overshoot Day 2015 

In 2015 we ended what nature had to offer to us (and, thus, started to take precious resources from next generations) on 13 August, while in 2014 it landed on 19 August.

How it is calculated

The date is calculated by comparing the ecological resources and services we use – in terms of overfishing, overharvesting forests and the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere – with nature’s capacity of regenerating such resources.

“The big problem is that we are not taking measures to take us in the right direction,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of GFN. “The problem is psychological – somehow we are missing this basic physical law. It is obvious to children, but for 98 per cent of economic planners it is a minor risk not worth our attention”.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica generated 97% of its electricity from renewable sources over the first 3 months of 2016. In 2015, it ran on renewables for 75 days in a row

A sustainable future

Stopping to use the wealth belonging to future generations not only is desirable but also convenient. “Such a new way of living comes with many advantages, and making it happen takes effort,” said Wackernagel. “The good news is that it is possible with current technology, and financially advantageous with overall benefits exceeding costs. It will stimulate emerging sectors like renewable energy, while reducing risks and costs associated with the impact of climate change on inadequate infrastructure. The only resource we still need more of is political will.” In order to achieve this objective, which is vital for the survival of our species, many countries are taking measures by divesting from fossil fuels and reducing meat consumption, whose production has a dramatic environmental impact.

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