Well, looks like we let down Mother Nature again this year. Overshoot Day, the day when human demand for ecological resources overpasses the earth’s annual ability to replenish said resources, occurred on August 8th, 2016. This means that globally we’ve used a year’s worth of ecological resources in less than eight months. Way to go, humanity.
What is Overshoot Day?
Overshoot Day, or Ecological Debt Day as it used to be known, marks the point in time when human consumption exceeds what the earth can naturally create in a given year. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), for the remainder of the year
we will be borrowing resources from future generations. Our current ecological consumption is drastically depleting the resources available for our children, their children, etc.
Sebastian Winkler, a spokesperson for Global Footprint Network, has seen this trend before. He says that human consumption of ecological resources has been increasing every year.
Ecological debt: How much are we using?
Overshoot Day is calculated by comparing the earth’s biocapacity and human demand for ecological resources. The resources that make up this calculation include cropland, livestock, foresting, space for urban infrastructure and carbon emissions.
At our current rate, we are using 1.6 earths
per year. But of course, we only have one earth to rely on. Winkler explains that by acting like the earth’s resources are unlimited, we are putting the earth’s ability to renew and replenish itself at risk. He stresses that balance, between what we need and what the earth can provide, is the key to survival. We need to make choices as citizens and consumers that support the vision of the world we want to see in the future.
What has/will Overshoot Day look like?
The first Overshoot Day was calculated in 1971 and fell on December 24th, a manageable six days earlier than it should be occurring. Unfortunately, since then the day has crept up earlier and earlier each year. In 1981 it occurred on November 13, October 12 in 1991 and Sept 26 in 2001. 2005 marked the first year that Overshoot Day happened in August. This year’s August 8 Overshoot Day is the earliest it has ever been in human history.
Calculations of our ecological debt have also been broken down by country. Unsurprisingly, the world’s richest and most developed countries account for a much larger part of the problem than their poorer counterparts. If we look at how many earths each country needs to sustain its current demand, the research shows that Australia requires 5.4 earths
, the USA needs 4.8, and the UK relies on 2.9 earths
. By contrast, India uses only 0.7 earths
Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of Environment, explains that when we deplete the earth’s resources, by over-foresting, overfishing and using up productive land, it is the earth’s poorest who bear the brunt of our actions. The poorest countries are hit hardest by this and have the least ability to recover.
If we continue at our current levels of consumption, Overshoot Day 2030 will occur on June 28, almost halfway through the year taking our annual reliance to almost 2 earths
Is it too late to curb our ecological consumption?
Global Footprint Network says no. In fact, they say that if we cut our global carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030 we could move the projected Overshoot Day from June 28 to September 16. They hope this can be accomplished and have renewed hope thanks to recent commitments made at the Paris Climate Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals. Here, over 200 countries pledged to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees per year.
What can I do to help?
A list of top ways individuals and households can reduce their personal ecological debt has been released by Global Footprint Network. They encourage eating vegetarian meals as often as possible. It takes 14 times more land to produce one ton of beef than it takes to produce one ton of grain. Another way to help out is to lower your energy consumption by using energy efficient appliances, ensuring your home is properly sealed, using renewable energy sources, such as solar power, and remembering to turn off lights and unplug unused electronics. Electricity makes up 38% of our global carbon footprint so efforts to reduce our electrical waste are important.
To decrease our overuse of ecological resources, Global Footprint Network also encourages the reduction of paper waste by asking people to recycle, print only what is necessary and print on both sides of the paper. Over one billion trees worth of paper are
thrown away every year in the United States alone. They also encourage reducing our carbon emissions by finding alternatives to driving to work such as taking a bike, walking, public transport or working from home.
For more suggestions on how you can help reduce your ecological footprint and make Overshoot Day later in the year, visit http://www.overshootday.org/
. Here you can take the #pledgefortheplanet, learn more about ecological resource use around the world by using their interactive global map, calculate your personal ecological footprint and even find resources for the classroom.