Earth Overshoot Day isn’t another one of those fun holidays that make Mondays, or rainy days, feel a bit brighter. Unlike National Donut Day, National Dog Day, or National Hug Day (which are all real by the way), Earth Overshoot Day marks the point when humans have officially used up all the resources Earth is capable of regenerating in one year.
That day came Monday August 8, five days earlier than in 2015. This means humanity successfully burnt through a sustainable amount of resources in less time than ever before. If we continue at this rate, we will need over 1.6 planets to meet our demands.
Global Footprint Network, a nonprofit research group that focuses on sustainability, declares Earth Overshoot Day every year. And the date keeps creeping up, landing on August 19 in 2014, and August 13 last year. Ever year we show just how rapidly we’ve been using the planet’s natural resources, and every year it feels a bit more depressing than the last.
A simple formula is used to determine this date. Global Footprint Network takes the planet’s biocapacity (pdf), or the amount of natural resources available, divides it by humanity’s ecological footprint, or how much of the planet’s resources we use up, and then multiplies it by the days in a year.
As for these resources, it’s not just simply water, land, and food, it’s also carbon storage. We’ve come to a point where we are pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than the forests and oceans can reabsorb.
“Carbon emissions are the fastest growing contributor to ecological overshoot, with the carbon Footprint now making up 60% of humanity’s demand on nature,” the Global Footprint Network explained in a press release.
Countries can offset their individual impact by using solar panels or wind turbines to generate their electricity. The Global Footprint Network also suggests that people eat vegetarian meals, shrink their energy use, and reduce their paper waste.
While the network has been calculating Earth’s overshoot day dating back to the 1960s, records show just how bad things have gotten. Back in 1961, for instance, we were only using three-quarters of our annual resources, but in 1970, we burnt through our annual resources by December 23. This year marked the beginning of a very grim realization: Every year Earth Overshoot Day gets earlier.
But there is some good news. While, since the 1970s, the day has moved three days earlier on average per year, over the past five years, it’s slowed to less than one day a year. Records show that we’re finally weaning off of fossil fuels. In 2015, for example, Costa Rica was able to power the entire country with 100 percent renewables for 75 days in a row, while Germany was powered by 95 percent renewable electricity. Furthermore, Portugal was able to run for four straight days without any fossil fuels. Many countries also show that renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels.
Alongside the decline of CO2 emissions, China has also committed to reducing meat consumption by 50 percent by 2030, which could stop the equivalent of 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. Many cities are making serious efforts to get rid of plastic single-use products.
There is, undoubtedly, still a significant amount of work to be done to move Earth Overshoot Day toward December 31, and big challenges ahead, with Earth’s population expected to rise to 11.2 billion by the end of the century. But if countries can work together, making ambitious steps toward global climate change, we may, hopefully in the next decade, have the opportunity to celebrate this depressing day in the fall rather than in the middle of the summer.
The sad part about this whole thing is that we don’t have to deplete Earth’s resources in order to power the world. Solutions have been available for decades that are for more energy efficient, all we have to do now is break down the system (red tape) that makes it so difficult to start implementing these solutions in a quicker manner.
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