Thanks to Global Footprint Network, a research organisation that helps countries manage natural resources and respond to climate change, we can now work out when our yearly allowance of the Earth’s resources is used up.
It’s called Earth Overshoot Day, the date in which our demand for ecological resources (timber, fish, crops) and the carbon our human activities emits exceeds the Earth’s ability to renew these resources and its ability to absorb carbon.
Think of this concept as though it were a bank account. Human demand for resources equates to debits. Regenerating and renewing resources are credits. Thus, Earth Overshoot Day is the date in which we have exhausted our resources, spent our entire ecological income and left with ‘zero cash’ in the account. Any further demands on the earth (debits out of the bank account) puts us in deficit after this date.
Now if we lived in an ecologically balanced system where humans lived in harmony with the planet, then ideally Earth Overshoot Day would fall on December 31. Given issues such as increasing world population and overconsumption by industrialised nations, we know that this is unrealistic. We know we’re racking up heaps of environmental debt if we consider the mounting body of climate change research.
So what day do we use up our yearly allowance of the Earth’s resources and start racking up ecological debt?
It changes each calendar year of course, but since 1969 when it first began, it’s clear that we’ve been using a year’s worth of resources much sooner. For example, in 1971 Earth Overshoot Day landed on December 21, evidence that humans generally lived within the finite confines of the planet. Compare this with 2017 when it fell on August 2. We used 12 month’s worth of resources in just seven months!
How is Earth Overshoot Day calculated?
The calculations are based on United Nations data sets which have been made available since 1961. Global Footprint Network continually revises and improves its methodology incorporating data from scientific literature when made available.
To calculate Earth Overshoot Day it considers four key factors:
- How much we consume,
- How efficiently products are made,
- How many of us there are, and
- How much nature’s ecosystems are able to produce.
According to their calculations, every year we’re using the resources of 1.7 Earths and by 2030, we would need two Earths based on UN population and consumption projections.
The organisation releases a report each year of the national ecological footprint of over 200 countries. Unsurprisingly it is the industrialised nations that have the highest footprint, with Australians leading the way, followed closely by Americans.
The organisation has also calculated the “Country’s Overshoot Day” to determine which date the ‘bank’ would be in overdraft if humanity consumed resources like the people of that nation. Let’s take Australia for example. If everyone lived and consumed resources like Australians do, the year’s worth of resources would be used up by March 12.
So what can you do to help slow down ecological ‘spending’?
To reduce how quickly we go into ecological deficit, we all need to be taking action to live sustainably. A great place to start is to calculate your personal ‘Overshoot Day’ by using this Footprint Calculator and compare the results with the worldwide date. By working out your ecological footprint, you’ll become aware of how you’re contributing to the problem and the steps you can take to slow down ecological spending.
The Footprint Calculator is a very basic calculator that requires you to provide responses to questions about your lifestyle, such as your food choices, energy consumption and travel habits. It takes no more than a couple of minutes to complete. While it’s not as robust as other carbon footprint calculators I’ve used, it still gives you an overall idea of how many earths would be needed if everyone lived like you.
After completing the user-friendly online questionnaire (when provided the option, I always added more information about my consumption habits to help improve the accuracy of the results), I calculated my personal Earth Overshoot Day as October 20. According to Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like me, we would need 1.2 Earths. Obviously my date is way better than the 2017 national date of August 2, but it’s still more than two months short of being within ecological spending limits.
Why is my ecological footprint high when my home is run completely on renewable energy (solar power), I embrace minimalism in most areas of my life, eat a vegan diet, grow food and work from home? I blame my business air travel. As the editor-in-chief of this growing sustainability-focussed media business, I am invited to attend events as part of our collaborations and brand partnerships. While I decline almost all of them (and usually send another correspondent who lives closest to where the event is held) there are some events that I just can’t get out of.
Last year I made three plane trips to Melbourne (once for business, twice for personal reasons), went on a business trip to Fremantle and another business trip to Japan. These trips increased my carbon footprint which is clearly depicted in the image below. Although I offset my annual carbon footprint, offsetting is not the best solution to a high-carbon lifestyle.
As a serious environmentalist, I know what I must do: I must avoid unnecessary air travel to keep my ecological bank balance in order. This is one of my goals this year and so far I’m tracking well. I’ve avoided the temptation to travel to Melbourne for the upcoming VAMFF sustainable fashion shows and have already declined invitations to several other events. I hope this time next year when I calculate my overshoot day I will come well within my resource budget. Wish me luck!
Have you calculated your personal overshoot day using the Footprint Calculator? How’d you go?
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Note: The 2018 Earth Overshoot Day has yet to be announced. To receive updates from Global Footprint Network about Earth Overshoot Day, visit overshootday.org.