Reading time: 8 minutes
Earth Overshoot Day illustrates that we are consuming resources at an usustainable rate on a global level
The world has an annual budget for the amount of natural resources it can consume and still remain in ecological balance with nature. Routinely exceeding this budget is damaging for the health of our planet, and for us. Doing so is known as an ‘overshoot’, a term used by ecologists to describe a situation in which demand for resources exceeds the capacity of an ecosystem to regenerate those resources. The concept is most easily understood in conjunction with Earth Overshoot Day — the date on which humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.
For example, if you make $100,000 per year but live off of $130,000 per year, you have gone into overshoot and will be forced to take money out of savings or go into debt to pay for everyday life. Similarly, if we cut down more trees than our forests can regrow, or catch more fish than can reproduce, we are overharvesting that resource and live unsustainably.
The Global Footprint Network has shown that humanity has been in ecological overshoot since the 1970s. In 2021, we reached global Earth Overshoot Day by just 29th July - unless we take urgent action against the climate crisis, we could find ourselves experiencing this as early as January.
The Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day by finding how many days the Earth’s biocapacity can provide for humanity’s ecological footprint. Any days past this date means that we are in global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by dividing the world biocapacity (the amount of natural resources generated by Earth that year), by the world ecological footprint (humanity’s consumption of Earth’s natural resources for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:
Earth Overshoot Day = (world biocapacity ÷ world ecological footprint) x 365
The calculation is based on global averages, so countries with a high ecological footprint will pass their own overshoot day earlier than the global average. From 1971 onwards, the global Earth Overshoot Day has fallen earlier and earlier in the year.
Individual countries have what is known as a country overshoot day. This is the day on which the Earth Overshoot Day would occur if the entire planet consumed resources at the same rate as the inhabitants of a specific country. Not all countries, however, have an overshoot day - it is only calculable if their ecological footprint per person is greater than global biocapacity per person. Below, we examine the country overshoot days for the US, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.
For 2022, the US is predicted to have a country overshoot day of 13th March, meaning we would require the resources of five Earths if the whole planet consumed at this rate. Together with Canada and the United Arab Emirates, the US has the third highest overshoot day of all applicable countries, behind only Qatar and Luxembourg.
Germany is predicted to reach its country overshoot day on 4th May in 2022. If everyone lived and consumed like the people living in Germany, we would need around 2.9 Earths in order to not exceed our available resources. Germany's overshoot day reflects the bigger pattern of EU countries. If everybody lived like the average EU citizen, we would need 2.8 Earths per year to have enough resources to live sustainably.
Central to ensuring that Earth Overshoot Day doesn’t continually fall earlier in the year is to reduce our consumption of natural resources on a global scale. Doing so will involve shifting away from fossil fuel-intensive sources of energy to renewable means of powering the world. As part of these efforts to ensure our future isn’t defined by the past, Earth Overshoot Day has outlined five key areas that it hopes will help to #MoveTheDate.
We need to preserve the planet's ecosystems to mitigate climate change and move the date of Earth Overshoot Day
Earth Overshoot Day is getting earlier each year - we can, however, work to reverse this trend. This must start with reducing global resource consumption, following the methods in the key areas highlighted above. But given how big the challenge posed by the climate crisis now is, reducing our consumption and associated CO₂ emissions is not enough. We also need to remove the historic CO₂ emissions that have built up in our atmosphere, as well as those emissions that we really cannot avoid in the future, in order to stop global warming.
With Climeworks’ carbon dioxide removal service, you can permanently remove a part of your CO₂ emissions. We remove CO₂ directly from the air in the name of our Climate Pioneers by capturing it with our direct air capture technology and storing it deep underground, where it mineralizes and turns into stone. By becoming a Climate Pioneer, you take your climate action one step further and join a community that strives to build a climate-positive future.