Updated: Sep 27, 2020
After Aug 22nd the world will have used more of the Earth’s natural resources than the Earth can generate in one year. Thus, Aug 22nd becomes this year’s Overshoot Day. There are few days more important to understand, and less known and talked about, than Overshoot Day. While there is debate about the complexities of biocapacity measurements, there is no doubt about the importance of the Overshoot concept for the world community. We must come to grips with our radical consumptive behavior. Overshoot Day is a good place to begin.
Overshoot day simply means that after this date nature can’t replace all that we use. So, nature’s reserves start depleting. “Some of these destructive consequences include deforestation, soil erosion, species loss and water depletion, as well as increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, triggering the cascading effects of climate change.” Theoretically, if the pattern persists, we will simply run out of forests and fresh air and water, sustainable soil, etc.
The base formula for the computation is straightforward: (Earth’s biocapacity/Earth’s Ecological Footprint) X 365 = Overshoot Day. For those of you who want to dig into the facts and numbers underpinning the formula for Overshoot Day I am supplying links.
Ecological Footprint measures natural assets a country requires like plant-based food and fiber, fish and livestock, forests, and space for urban infrastructure, as well as the demand on nature to absorb waste and carbon emissions. That's the demand side.
Biocapacity, the supply side, represents ecological assets like crop and grazing land, forests, fishing grounds and etc. and the ability to absorb waste emissions.
In 1970 the earth's biocapacity and the ecological consumption of its inhabitants were practically in balance. Overshoot Day that year was in late December. In 2019, just 49 years later, the day was July 29th. In 2020 it actually has improved to August 22nd. The reason for an apparent improvement in our consumptive appetite was, of course, the impact of the coronavirus on the world’s economy. Regardless of the its impact we are still likely headed in the wrong direction. This is clearly a road to disaster.
There are few better places to harvest information and find action ideas to stem the tide of this existential threat than FootprintNetwork.org and EarthOvershootDay.org. These organizations are devoted to understanding the impact of our environmental behavior on the world’s biocapacity.
“The core of Global Footprint Network is the Ecological Footprint, a comprehensive sustainability metric. It was created by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees in the early 1990s as part of Wackernagel’s PhD research at the University of British Columbia. Over the years, the Ecological Footprint concept has grown to become a household phrase around the world. The term “footprint” has become synonymous with human behavior and its impact.”
Footprint Network powers the data engine that feeds the formula. In addition to this data you will find articles and case studies, information by country and cities, educational resources for kids and teachers, sector analysis, and a great footprint calculator that allows you to compute how many earths it would take if everyone lived your lifestyle. I took it and was humbled. You try it. As the old saying goes; “We can better manage what we measure.”
Earth Overshoot Day.org is about education and action to protect the world’s resources. “The concept of Earth Overshoot Day was first conceived by Andrew Simms of the UK think tank New Economics Foundation, which partnered with Global Footprint Network in 2006 to launch the first global Earth Overshoot Day campaign. At that time, Earth Overshoot Day fell in October.”
Besides general information of Overshoot Day, the site includes a blog on Overshoot related stories and a solution section segmented by cities, energy, food, planet and population. There is also an educational section for teachers, and students and the same footprint calculator as found on footprintnetwork.org.
Both sites contain attractive and useful graphics that help us understand the scope of the issues involved.
Overshoot day is a tool that allows us to measure our progress in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. We live in a country that has one of the worst ecological footprints in the world. We are each a part of the footprint. The fact is that there is much we can each do to help. The question is, will we.