By Sophie Muller
It’s well known that on April 22nd, we celebrate the Earth and what it gives to us. Since its founding in 1970, Earth Day recognizes the beauty, power, and gifts that our planet provides. More recently, Earth Day has been a time to bring to attention the issues plaguing our planet and the widespread consequences they have.
A lesser known day that brings to attention the depletion and degradation of Earth’s precious resources is a day in July called Earth Overshoot Day. It marks the day when the resources Earth can regenerate in a year are depleted by humanity. The rest of the calendar days after Earth Overshoot Day represents that our demand for Earth’s resources exceed the amount Earth can provide in a year’s time. This year, it falls on July 28th. In approximately six months, humans need more resources than Earth can provide in an entire twelve months.
The date in July measures global population demand versus global ecological supply, but we can also measure country, city, and town overshoot days. The closer an overshoot day is to the end of the calendar year, the more sustainable a region is. For example, the United States overshoot day is March 13th. This date is particularly disturbing, especially since power outages, storms, fires, and other climate-related events have become common news in America. In comparison, China’s overshoot day is June 1st and Jamaica’s overshoot day is December 20th.
Although Earth Overshoot Day began less than twenty years ago, its history is short but clarifying and it puts into perspective the appalling resource demands of our society. Its concept began in 2006, when Andrew Simmons, an economist who worked with the Global Footprint Network, calculated Earth Overshoot Day by dividing Earth’s biocapacity (yearly ecological production) by humanity’s ecological footprint (resources demanded), and multiplying that figure by 365 (days in a calendar year). As resource demands change, the date Earth Overshoot Day falls on moves up each year. In 2006, Earth Overshoot Day was August 26th, in 2010 Earth Overshoot Day was August 8th, and in 2018 Earth Overshoot Day was August 1st. This pattern of depletion shows how detrimental our current consumption is for our planet.
Earth Overshoot Day can also be thought of as nature’s budget. Every year, we’re given a reserve of natural resources, and every year, we spend it all before we are “paid” again. For the rest of the year, the world is in ecological debt, and we accumulate more debt every year. The payment for that debt is already clear – heat waves, food shortages, water scarcity, severe storms – and more, and more, and more. Earth Overshoot Day is a reminder that we are exhausting nature’s budget, and now we’re beginning to see that that exhaustion comes with environmental, social, and economic costs.