Earth Overshoot Day: when the Earth goes into deficit.

Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day is the day on which humans have consumed all the environmental resources that the Earth normally produces in a year.

In 2020, Earth Overshoot Day is 22 August.
It means that from that day on, man will use more resources than our planet produces.
It has not been this late for 15 years: in 2005 it fell on 25 August. Last year it fell on 29 July.

But while 22 August is an ‘aggregate date’ at global level, in reality each country has its own ‘overshoot day‘ depending on its level of exploitation of natural resources, for example:

  • Qatar, overshoot day 2020 fell on 11 February,
  • in the USA on 14 March,
  • Guatemala on 13 November,
  • in Indonesia on 18 December.
Earth Overshoot Day

Since when is Earth Overshoot Day calculated?

Compared to previous years there has been an improvement, but certainly not due to human will.
The health crisis brought about by Covid-19 has slowed down the overexploitation of natural resources.
Laurel Hanscom, CEO of Global Footprint Network, says: “The coronavirus-induced lockdown has caused the global Ecological Footprint to shrink by 10 per cent, delaying the ecological debt date by more than three weeks compared to last year, but the planet’s limits are still being vastly exceeded, as if humanity had 1.6 Earths at its disposal.

We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, mainly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The Global Footprint Network’s calculations are based on the concept of an ‘ecological footprint’.

The ecological footprint is a system that measures how much land and water a population uses to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb waste.
This system adds up all the competing demands of people for biologically productive areas: food, timber, fibre, carbon sequestration and land for infrastructure.

The rest of the year corresponds to the global overshoot.

According to experts, the first day ever that demand exceeded supply was 19 December 1987.

Earth Overshoot Day

How Covid-19 slowed down the exploitation of the planet

To determine the impact of the pandemic on the carbon footprint – which decreased by 14.5% – the period was divided into three segments:

  • January-March, for which the International Energy Agency (IEA) has already released an analysis on the reduction of energy consumption and emissions;
  • April-May, the period when containment measures around the world were most stringent;
  • June to Earth Overshoot Day, when a gradual easing of containment policies is expected.

The Footprint due to the consumption of forest products – down 8.4% – is influenced by forecasts of demand for timber, which in turn determine forest harvests. Although construction continued during the pandemic, the forestry industry predicted a decline in demand in the near future, thus opting for a rapid reduction in timber harvesting.

The global food system suffered severe damage, such as the temporary suspension of food services and the inability of agricultural workers to cross borders.
The food distribution network has been compromised in many places, increasing both food waste and malnutrition.
Nevertheless, the overall Food Footprint appears not to have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What can be done to postpone the Earth Overshoot Day

It is clear that the first and only sensible and practicable solution is to move towards sustainable development, in which the exploitation of natural resources is lower than their rate of spontaneous regeneration.

Reducing the human carbon footprint (carbon footprint: the sum total of all greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for global warming) is particularly important, since – as of 2016 – the carbon footprint accounts for more than 60% of the total human environmental footprint.

According to experts at the Global Footprint Network, humanity as a whole and each of us in our own lives should change our habits on food, waste disposal and transport.

Here is a reminder on plastic recycling.

With food systems currently using half of our planet’s biocapacity,” Hanscom comments, “it is important to pay attention to what we eat.
Reducing food waste is also important: if only we could cut food waste by half, Ecological Debt Day would move forward by 13 days.

Experts at the Global Footprint Network point out that if Earth Overshoot Day were delayed by just five days each year, humanity would be using resources adequate to the planet by 2050.

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