Earth Overshoot Day 2015
Today, August 13th, 2015, is Overshoot Day: the day when humanity’s annual demand for ecosystem goods and services – such as crops, meat, wood, and carbon-intensive resources – exceeds what the planet’s ecosystems can renew (or in the case of carbon dioxide emissions, absorb) in a year. From this day until the end of the year, we will essentially be living off resources borrowed from the future. In other words, the consumption of natural capital for the rest of the year will result in the depletion of the Earth’s resource base.
The calculation and promotion of Earth Overshoot Day was conceived by the Global Footprint Network (GFN). They continue to support the initiative in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and many other partners. Overshoot Day falls on a different day every year, but the date keeps getting closer and closer to the start of the year. In 2006, the first year that Overshoot Day was calculated and publicized, it was in October. Last year, it occurred roughly a week later, on August 19th. According to GFN estimates, human consumption of resources started to exceed the Earth’s capacity in the early 1970s.
What can be done?
We are currently consuming resources at a rate that would be sustainable if we lived on a planet 1.6-times the size of Earth. Humans are stressing the planet at an increasingly high rate due to the growth of the middle class in emerging economies and a growing global population. So what is to be done?
There are many opportunities to use resources more efficiently. For example, in terms of food consumption, reducing meat consumption and shifting to a plant-based diet can reduce the water requirements and greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production. For wood consumption, better forestry planning through strategic afforestation and reforestation and the elimination of clear-cutting can stop and even reverse the global reduction in biomass resources.
The Elephant in the room
Perhaps the greatest global challenge that we face is reversing climate change. Already, the Earth’s bio-resources have effectively absorbed all of the carbon dioxide that they can handle for the year. The emissions produced for the rest of the year will increase the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere and enhance the radiative forcing of the sun’s rays, ultimately contributing to increased global temperatures.
The solution lies in enhancing energy efficiency -- making better use of our existing resources -- and harnessing the vast untapped level of renewable resources. The renewable energy opportunity is huge: in just one day, the Sun sends enough light to the Earth to power all of humanity’s current energy needs for an entire year. There are also opportunities to tap the relentless power of the wind and to make productive use of our agricultural waste, which can be turned into energy and fertilizer products.
Where we’re going
According to GFN projections, if we carry on at our current tack, Overshoot Day will come as early as June 28th in 2030. On the other hand, if we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030, Overshoot Day could be pushed back to September 16th.
Over the next 15 years, we can either push Overshoot Day forward by a month-and-a-half, or push it back by a month. Which direction we move will depend a lot on the commitments made by our global leaders in Paris this coming December, but it will also depend on private-sector leadership, and how eager we are to take advantage of the opportunities to address climate change.