Earth Overshoot Day

August 14, 2020

By Emily Anderson – Emily is a Junior at Arizona State University. She is working on a bachelor’s degree in Nonprofit Management.

In today’s world, people tend to use resources in excess. From traveling by automobiles and planes to using immoderate amounts of plastic, society has created an unhealthy obsession with the consumerism lifestyle. While many are blinded by the “one use” culture, movements globally have brought awareness to the health of the Earth. Scientists have dedicated their careers to calculating and reducing carbon footprints worldwide and with modern tools available to us, we have the capability to create a compatible energy efficient world. 

Each year scientists gather to understand the human effect on this planet. Earth Overshoot Day is an annual date calculated revealing how badly humanity has exhausted our natural resources for that given year. Scientists and activists estimate how many Earths would humanity need in order to survive.  Humanity currently uses 60% more than what can be renewed – or as much as if we lived on 1.6 planets. 

Each individual country maintains their own Overshoot Day. A country’s overshoot day is the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in their country. In 2019, the United States would have needed five individual Earths in order to accommodate our production needs. In 2020, the United State’s Overshoot Day landed on March 14th. Sadly, this was an actual improvement over 2019. 

This year, scientists from the Earth Overshoot Day initiative have anticipated the planet’s date falling on August 22, 2020. Although this seems like a troubling date, Earth Overshoot Day was reduced by 14.5% from last year, when the date landed on July 29, 2019. This year’s calculations show there has been a deduction in usage of raw materials. The last time we had a deduction in natural materials was in 1982. How have we successfully helped push the date back towards December where it should be?

Due to recent pandemic events, Covid-19 has had a lasting impact on the environment that cannot be dismissed. Researchers from the University of East Anglia share, “…there has been an expected drop in emissions for sectors including transport, power, industry, aviation, and residential use.” The paper argues that at their peak, confinement measures resulted in a worldwide 17% daily reduction in emissions, leading to a potential annual emission reduction of between 4.2% and 7.5% compared to the year prior. The article explains how the pandemic has limited the surplus demand on natural resources. The temporary hold on in-person consumerism led to a decrease in carbon usage, forest products, and food footprints. 

Beginning in 2006, founder Andrew Simms partnered with Global Footprint Network to design the first global Earth Overshoot Day campaign. Since this collaboration, millions of people have joined the movement of minimizing humans’ impact on the planet. In 2007, Earth Overshoot Day partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to expand their mission. Although this is a new organization, scientists in this field can successfully create estimations of overshoot days in the past. Since 2005, this day has fallen between early to mid-August. Now as we approach the second decade in the 21st century, we have happily reached the latest date calculated, August 22, 2020 but we can do better in our attempt to push towards the optimal date of December 31st.

Earth Overshoot Day is a reminder that society should critically think about their excessive use of natural resources. The data captured helps to illustrate the negative impact we have on raw materials. In efforts to discourage excess usage, the calculated Overshoot Day will clearly demonstrate how much we are stripping future generations of essentials. As the date moves closer to January 1st in any individual year, the more pressure we put on our lives as we go forward. Earth Overshoot Day can be influential on how we use materials today. Being aware of our usage will create opportunities for society to assist in a thriving future. 

The computed date brings attention to individuals’ impact on the planet’s natural resources. Included is a link that demonstrates how your actions would alter Overshoot Day. This survey illustrates how many Earths the population would need if everyone used the same amount of resources as you. In addition to the footprint calculator, researchers determine our impact on Earth each year using the following calculator. 

(Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day

2019 was the earliest overall planet overshoot date recorded in history so far, July 29, 2019. Due to Covid-19 precautionary steps that we have all exercised in 2020, the overshoot date improved slightly to August 22nd, yet there is more we can do to help create a more sustainable world. Global Footprint Network experts shared some insight how we can work to produce a one-planet compatibility, “Moving the date of Earth Overshoot Day back 5 days each year would allow humanity to reach a one-planet compatibility before 2050. Likewise, minimizing carbon usage in everyday life by half would set the date 3 months later than years prior. By shopping at local farmers markets and using sustainable energy resources, such as, solar energy, we can move the date back even further approaching December 31st where it ought to be.”

Humanity must continue moving the date back towards December, year after year. Each of us can help to improve the health of the Earth by taking simple steps. Being mindful of our surroundings and reducing our one-use habits as consumers can lead to increased sustainability and a positive lasting impact. Practicing small gestures of awareness will enforce that one day.

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