Unplug the speakers and push the cork back in the champagne bottle, it’s Earth Overshoot day!
That’s because the Overshoot marks the day humanity used up all the resources our Earth can (re)generate in a year; everything we eat, drink, burn, or otherwise consume past this day puts us in a kind of environmental overdraft. And I use ‘resources’ here in the broadest sense possible, ranging from food and water all the way to how much carbon plants can sequester in a year.
“By August 2 2017, we will have used more from Nature than our planet can renew in the whole year,” the groups said in a statement.
“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period.”
The date comes down to the balance between what we use and throw out as trash — humanity’s global footprint — and what the Earth can produce and absorb — known as biocapacity. At present consumption patterns, humanity would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to supply all the natural resources we’ll use this year and deal with all the mess we’ll make without going into overdraft. But we only have one, meaning our activity from now on will place extra strain on environments, and eat into their ability to provide the things we need in the future.
Which isn’t good news. But then again, who hasn’t gone a few days with an overdraft card, right? It’s not ideal, but you get it fixed sooner or later and life moves on. Sure, as an isolated incident, but have you ever tried being in overdraft for 45 years? Because we as a species did just that.
And we’re getting into overdraft territory earlier each year. The Global Footprint Network has calculated the date of the Overshoot since 1986 based on data from thousand of economic sectors (fisheries, forestry, or energy production for example) from the UN. In the 1980s it fell in November. By 1993 it advanced to October, and by the 2000s it was well into September. Last year, it happened on the 8th of August, a full 6 days later than this year. One cause for hope is that the rate at which the Overshoot advances through the calendar seems to be slowing down, at least.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that we’re just two-thirds through this year and we’re already living on borrowed time. People in some countries consume way more than others on average — you can see when the date would fall for each country here — but finger-pointing won’t solve the issue here. We’re dealing with systemic issues that will require us to work together to solve, not split into blame-throwing camps. Most of us have a personal overshoot day. If you don’t believe me, you can calculate your own here.
The single biggest factor in our footprint, for example, is carbon emissions, gobbling up 60% of our allotted resources. We’re seeing a big drive behind clean energy recently, but there’s still a long way to go before we put a meaningful dent in that number. Food makes up 26% of our footprint, The Global Footprint Network reports. If we cut food waste in half, and swap protein-intensive foods for more fruit and vegetables, it could be reduced to 16%.
The easiest place to start, however, is with one’s own garden, so to speak. If you want to do your little part in helping humanity repair its credit rating to Bank Earth, you should consider eating less meat, driving less and always taking on passengers, and cutting down on trash by recycling and limiting food waste.