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Earth Overshoot Day

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Elissa Knowles introduces the concept of Earth Overshoot Day and discusses a few ways in which we can efficiently conserve our planet’s finite resources.

Image credit: dima_zel

As we draw nearer to the end of another year, I think it’s important to review some of 2022’s environmental highlights, one of which is Earth Overshoot Day. According to this day ‘marks the date when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year’, and sadly this day fell on the earliest day thus far (identical to 2018) on the 28th July.

This date is meticulously calculated via the Global Footprint Network, who help to monitor anthropological influence on earth’s resources and waste, their goal being to operate within earth’s ecological limits. The calculation for this date is fairly straightforward: dividing earth’s biocapacity (amount of resources the earth is able to produce) by humanity’s environmental footprint (demand for resources and output of waste), then multiplying this number by 365 to give Earth Overshoot Day.

Interestingly, a country’s overshoot day varies drastically depending on their usage of resources. If the entire population were to act as, for example, Qatar did, then overshoot would be as early as February 10th, whereas if we were all to mimic Jamaica’s resource intake and waste output, we would still be maintaining a late overshoot date of December 20th. Unfortunately, the United Kingdom is working below average and would have, in 2022, instigated overshoot day on March 19th.

The best way to consider earth overshoot day and the usage of natural resources is to equate it to payday and over-spending each month. At the start of the month, you are given a finite amount of money to last until next pay day, and if you spend too much (like we do each year with earth’s resources) you will fall short for the following month, possibly falling into your overdraft or loaning money (but there is no back up option for our ecological resources). Not only this, but imagine each month you decide to spend more and more, becoming increasingly frivolous with your money, rather than doing the logical thing of learning from previous mistakes and being more conscious. This is precisely what we’re doing, and it is a recipe for disaster. At our current rate, we need 1.7 planet earth’s to meet our resource demands. It is predicted that before the mid 21st century our demands will equate to needing 2 planet earths.

The demands in question are a result of both climate change (output of greenhouse gases) and ecological destruction (deforestation, habitat/species loss, soil erosion, fisheries collapse, etc.). Both of which have knock on effects in terms of land and crop, which an ever-growing population only creates more of a demand for. Eventually the supply will run out.

Free photos of Forest

Image Credit: 753tomas753

Since it was first recorded in the early 1970s, when the first overshoot day occurred (December 25th, 1971), earth’s resources have been used up earlier and earlier each year: in 50 years we have reduced that day by 5 months, and will only continue on this path unless something changes. So what can we do?

One of the main information sites ( helpfully set up a proactive page in which like-minded individuals can share their solutions to this ongoing problem, which they have coined #MoveTheDate. It proposes a greener future in which humans make more sustainable, carbon-neutral decisions alongside a greater sense of responsibility and care for others around us. They intend to target five key areas in which they propose changes that will ‘move the date’ toward an eco-friendly future: cities (reducing the carbon footprint of driving by 50% would move the date by 13 days), energy (reducing the carbon footprint of our energy consumption would move the date by 93 days), food (reducing meat consumption by 50% would move the date by 17 days), planet (regenerating 350 million hectares of forest would move the date by 8 days) and population (if 50% of families had one less child and parenthood was postponed by 2 years we would move the date by 49 days). Visit their website for more information on how proactive decisions can help create a sustainable future.

Another website that is highly insightful into ways of #movingthedate is who suggests, for example, that switching out old non-functional appliances could move overshoot day by 6 days, or that if 80% of our food was locally sourced we could move the date by 1.6 days. One thing I personally choose to do is shop second-hand and make sure to wear each item at least 30 times (to make it environmentally viable); this reuse, repair, repurpose and recycle attitude toward clothes, even by half, could move overshoot day by 5 days.

However you choose to make a difference, sites such as these will give you the confidence and motivation to continue being part of the solution and, in these ever-changing climates, keep the ‘eco-anxiety’ at bay.

About the Author: Elissa Knowles is a third-year Psychology Student at the University of York, loves taking care of her many (many) plants and hopes to go into environmental journalism.

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