What You Need to Know About Earth Overshoot Day

What You Need to Know About Earth Overshoot Day

We break down what it is, why you should care and what you can do to help #MoveTheDate

One of the most wondrous things about nature is its regenerative abilities.

Amongst wildlife, the salamander can regrow a lost tail, including the spinal cord and nerves. Starfish can regrow arms that detach, and surprisingly, can even regrow the rest of its body from a detached arm. And the Mexican walking fish – also known as the axolotl – can regenerate limbs, skin and almost any other body part. Pretty cool.

And there are other examples of the earth regenerating itself: A forest without human interference will grow and die and be reborn over and over again. When there is the proper balance in an ecosystem – whether on land or in the water – wildlife can find the food and water they need to stay at a point of equilibrium. Regenerative agricultural practices can create better soil and leads to greater productivity and more nutritious food.

Forest, Greg Rosenke, Unsplash

The trouble starts when a species – in this case, humans – inserts themselves into the equation and simply takes what they find, believing it’s their right to extract as much as they want because they appear bigger, stronger and smarter than nature.

And when we take more out of the Earth than she is able to regenerate, we are living beyond our planetary means.

Picture that young person fresh out of university with their first credit card and big aspirations, racking up debt that their salary simply won’t cover and you’ll get the idea of what we mean when we use the term ‘Earth Overshoot Day’. That’s the date when we have used up all the Earth’s regenerative resources for the year and start to live on borrowed resources.

We keep kicking the can down the road, hoping that we won’t be here when that final bill is due.

Andrew Simms, from the New Economics Foundation think tank in the UK, and the Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation helping decision-makers create systems that exist within the planet’s means, came up with the concept of Earth Overshoot Day in 2006, but they have data going back to 1970.

Since that time, there has been a clear trend: overshoot happens earlier and earlier each year. We’re currently living as though we had the resources of 1.6 Earths…that’s the young adult living 60% beyond their means!

Tracking the date - Earth Overshoot Dates since 1970

You see that last bar? Because of the COVID-19 shutdowns, we are seeing Overshoot Day come three weeks later than it did in 2019. But if you stop and think of the massive disruption we are all living through – and realise that only shifted things by three weeks – you quickly start to see how much of our lifestyles need to change to move us toward balance.

Tessa Clarke, co-founder of sustainability app OLIO, said: ‘Covid-19 has been one of the most profound events in living history – the entire world literally stopped. And yet this only pushed back Earth Overshoot Day by three weeks. It’s clear we need a complete overhaul of how we consume and live in the world to make significant progress in bringing the date forward so that humanity can once again exist in equilibrium with the planet.’

Global Footprint Network have identified five solutions to #MoveTheDate that we can all participate in:

Planet

‘Fertile soil, clean water, and clean air are necessary to provide humanity with the food and physical health we require to thrive.’ We need to protect and preserve wild spaces by supporting classical conservation organisations. We need to restore forests and mangroves. And we need to move toward regenerative and sustainable agriculture

Cities

‘Between 70% and 80% of all people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050.’ We need energy-efficient buildings, compact cities and effective options for people-powered and public transportation.

Energy

Global temperatures have been rising since the Industrial Revolution started burning fossil fuels to produce the energy that has propelled society forward and lead to all the innovations we enjoy today. The problem is that if average temperatures rise 2ºC above the levels they were in 1850s, we’ll quickly end up with a planet that isn’t habitable for humans. We have to immediately stop burning fossil fuel and switch to renewable energy sources.

Food

The two main issues we’re facing here are that ‘animal calories are significantly more resource intensive than plant calories to produce’ and ‘about one third fo food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or wasted’. We can help move the date by eating a plant-based diet and cutting down on food waste.

Population

‘The more of us there are, the less planet there is per person.’ With global populations expected to grow to almost 10b by 2050, it’s going to start getting pretty crowded here. It’s time to start a global conversation about population size so that everyone on the planet has the ability to live a decent life with enough resources and better opportunities.

How many Earths do we need

‘Humanity has been united by the common experience of the pandemic and shown how intertwined our lives are. At the same time, we cannot ignore the deep unevenness of our experiences nor the social, economic, and political tensions which have been exacerbated by this global disaster,’ said Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom. ‘Making regeneration central to our rebuilding and recovery efforts has the potential to address the imbalances both in human society and in our relationship with the Earth.’

Our past doesn’t determine our future. We’re creating our future with every choice we make. And we have the opportunity now to create a different future. All we have to do is make a few changes to how we live.

To see what you can do – and to explore what others are doing – check out Earth Overshoot Day’s steps to #MoveTheDate and don’t forget to share what you’ll be doing on social media.