We often talk about the carbon footprint of our consumption, but have you ever wondered what is the impact of the world’s total resource use? Today, August 13th is Earth Overshoot Day. This is the estimated day experts claim that the world’s population has reached the quota of natural resources that can be consumed for this year. After these 24 hours we will be borrowing resources from future generations to sustain our modern lifestyle this year.
What is Earth Overshoot Day?
Earth Overshoot Day is the approximate date when humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate or replenish those resources. In addition, we have reached the limit of Earth’s annual capacity to absorb waste products such as carbon dioxide. At this point we will only be able to assist the planet with carbon-reducing projects.
The concerning news is that we have been using up the Earth’s resources faster and sooner every year. However, through education and growing awareness surrounding natural resources and emission we did manage to stay within the same month for this estimated date for the 3rd consecutive year. This is a good sign.
Don’t relax just yet – there’s a long way to go! According to Global Footprint Network, our demand for renewable ecological resources already exceeds the resources Earth can provide. Historically, humanity used nature to create products and to absorb our carbon dioxide at a rate well within Earth’s budget, but by the mid-1970s we reached the breaking point and our consumption began outpacing the planet’s ability to recover these resources. Data indicates we are on track to require the equivalent of two planets before 2050.
To push the Earth Overshoot Day later into the year, we’ll have to work hard: minimize our carbon emissions and rely on carbon offset projects to support the reduction of emissions we cannot eliminate on our own. By supporting Terrapass projects, you are making a difference because they wouldn’t have been possible without your funding.
How do we know when we have Overshot?
In a sense, this works similarly to a financial balance sheet – once the reserve is used, you are borrowing and living in debt. The question is: how much of our planet’s natural resources are available for sustainable use per person (this is called biocapacity) and how much do we use per person (this is called a person’s “ecological footprint”)?
Researchers look at how much land, sea, and other natural resources are used to produce what people consume. For example: how many veggies do we eat? How much coffee do we drink? How much gas do we put in our cars? Although we do not “consume” carbon dioxide in a traditional sense, it does take resources to absorb it. It is an important part of the calculation because it shows the “total package” of our human impact.
To measure human impact researchers must also know how much our planet can provide sustainably. Different areas on Earth give us different resources, so to measure the overall “productivity” of our planet scientists averaged the available data from different areas and came up with the “global hectare.”
In other words, the global hectare measures the world-average ability to give us resources and to absorb our wastes. Just like with regular hectares, there is a limited amount of global hectares on our planet and we start living unsustainably when we have used up all of them. It is a good guide to be able to keep track of the state of our natural resources.
Is Earth Overshoot Day an exact date with a certain number?
The ecological overshoot day is an estimate. There may be no data for some parts of the world and researchers don’t know to what extent some resources are being overused. If anything, the reported numbers are an underestimate.
While the formula may not be perfect, they are useful to planners, politicians and scientist who consider our overall impact on the environment. For us, this is a yearly reminder to do better. Do you know if your carbon budget is balanced? Find out your carbon footprint with our carbon calculator and take action to balance it to reduce your impact.
What can we do?
Small actions can make a big difference. Consider changing your consumption patterns and inspire others to do the same. Here are just a few ideas to get you started (you can find more in our blog).
Reduce your carbon footprint:
- Avoid using your car and balance your emissions with carbon offsets. Use your bike or walk short distances. Are you going on a road trip this summer? Check out our guide to a greener road trip. Remember that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, so find out your carbon footprint with our calculator.
- Conserve power and support Renewable Energy. Unplug your electrical vampires, up your thermostat in the summer, and turn it down in the winter. Consider installing solar panels. If you are not there yet, support renewable energy with our Renewable Energy Credits. By creating a future with more renewable energy, we decrease the need to burn fossil fuels for years to come.
- Eat a local, low-carbon vegetarian diet. See our blog to find great tips on eating your way to a lower carbon footprint, here.
- Buy sustainable products. It’s becoming easier by the day to buy sustainably. Consider sustainability labels and use the Greenease app to find the products that work for you and the Earth.
Reduce your water footprint:
- Stop leaks and turn off the tap when you are not using it. On average, 10 gallons per day is lost to leaks. By plugging up you can reduce your indoor water use by 14%.
- Look for EnergyStar and WaterSensewhen shopping for appliances. They are specifically designed to save water.
- Grow a garden with low water requirements. There are many alternatives to lawns which will have you wondering why you have spent so much time mowing! Collect grey water and rain. You’ll get more things done with fewer gallons. For example, collect water for plants while you are waiting for the tap to warm up. Find out more tips, here.
- Balance your water footprint with BEF Water Restoration Certificates®. The average person in the US is responsible for nearly 2,000 gallons of water a day and only a fraction runs through our home. Nearly 95%of your water footprint is hidden in the food you eat, energy you use, products you buy, and services you rely on. Every BEF Water Restoration Certificate® created represents 1000 gallons of water restored on your behalf. By purchasing BEF WRCs® you are directly contributing to the restoration of recreational and ecological vitality in critical freshwater ecosystems. Learn more here.
Spread the word:
- Use this Overshoot day to let your friends and family know about sustainability and sustainable living options. Every journey starts with one small step.
- Go social and post a story about your actions to fight climate change. Be proud of your efforts to make a difference and you never know who you may inspire. Tweet @Terrapass and use the hashtag #Overshoot to share your thoughts on the issue.
- Get your kids involved in a sustainable project such as making a simple terrarium garden or preparing seed bombs for next year. Kids are the ones who will be taking care of this planet after us and they need to know how to make a difference. See more kids’ activities here.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Photograph, illustrate, or design artwork to send a message, celebrating the planet we live on and calling for change. How is climate change affecting your region? Share on our Facebook page.
How are you reducing your carbon footprint and fighting Ecological Overshoot Day? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter and Pinterest for more sustainability tips. Visit our website to find out more about your carbon footprint.