Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the point at which we’ve used all of 2017’s resources – how much of that is your fault?
When it comes to accelerating our own destruction, we humans are nothing if not perfectionists seeking year-on-year efficiency savings. In 2015, I was writing about Overshoot Day – the moment when we use our resources for the year – on 13 August. This year, we’ve really outdone ourselves, coming in 11 days earlier – if we really push ourselves, July is easily attainable for 2018.
What is Overshoot Day? It’s the moment when we use our yearly allowance of resources. The figure is calculated by measuring humanity’s outgoings (fish stocks, timber, crops, carbon emissions, etc.) against the planet’s ability to renew the used resources and take the carbon hit.
To be clear, if we were to hit Overshoot Day on 31 December, we’d be environmentally “breaking even” – which is to say we’d have exactly zero resources to spare. In an ideal world – which we are demonstrably not – this would come around every few years. The fact that we’re hitting this moment before the end of summer suggests we’re badly in the red, and racking up plenty of debt on the already strained environmental credit card.
The 2 August Overshoot Day means that we’re on course to use up 170% of the world’s natural resources this year – that’s up from 144% a decade ago, and 78% back in 1963. In other words, we’re using up 1.7 Earths every year.
Overshoot Day: How bad is your lifestyle?
Not all humans are equally culpable for the sorry state we find ourselves in. If you were looking for the best predictor of your responsibility, it would be where you’re sat. If you’re Australian or American, things look particularly bad:
But we can do better than that. The Global Footprint Network has come up with a calculator to figure out exactly how much damage you’re doing to the planet, compared to the global average.
In the interests of transparency, I came up with 1.9 Earths – which I was quite pleased with compared to others in the office (I can’t drive, I don’t fly much and my building has solar panels), until I remembered that’s this is still a terrible result overall: if everyone lived like me, Overshoot day would fall on 11 July. There’s definitely room to improve – my love of meat would be a good place to start, but insects just don’t do it for me.
Overshoot Day: What can be done?
You already know this on a personal level. Eat less meat and dairy, buy less stuff, drive less and use public transport more.
If we were to cut food waste in half, Overshoot Day would shift back 11 days – and if we moved to a less protein-intensive diet, we’d push it back by a whole month. The best thing we could do as a species though? If the world reduced its carbon emissions by 50%, we’d delay next year’s Overshoot Day by a whopping 89 days – or three months.
Humanity had collectively come to the conclusion that maybe ramping up carbon emissions was a bad thing… and then America elected a climate change denier to the White House, and things have been going backwards since. It’s not great.
In short, I’ll see you back here in July 2018.
Image by Jon Feinstein, used under Creative Commons.