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Overshoot Day: What Does It Imply?

Earth overshoot day is becoming more worrisome as each year passes. What is overshoot day about? Find out more about this term and what it implies.
Ecology News
2024-04-26T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
waterfall with red cliffs

In 2024, overshoot day will occur on July 25th – roughly five months before the end of the year.

Overshoot Day is impossible to miss, as every year – the media announces this fateful date, and it draws closer each year.

At this point, you may be wondering what Earth Overshoot Day, or EOD, is – essentially, Overshoot Day is an indicator and testimony to the pressure exerted by man on the planet. Of course, global warming is massively illustrated by the surplus of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released into the atmosphere – but it is also represented by the depletion of natural resources.

In this article, we'll explain what Overshoot Day is, the causes of this ecological deficit, and how we manage to finally push back this date.

What is Overshoot Day?

Overshoot Day symbolizes the date on which humanity has consumed all the resources that the planet can regenerate in one year. Some examples associated with overshoot day include how in one year, humanity catches so many fish – that the fish species don't have time to reproduce. Another example is when we cut trees faster than they can grow.

Therefore, Overshoot Day day perfectly demonstrates the pressure humans are putting on the planet – and depicts how our way of life is far too greedy to be sustained by the natural resources we have available.
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what is overshoot day? with earth and straw in the earth against black starry sky

On Overshoot Day, humanity is merely living off of credit – virtually the same way someone uses a credit card without having sufficient funds in their bank account. The same goes for humans on Overshoot Day: using resources that are otherwise unavailable.

This can beg the question – have we ever noticed a net decrease of our ecosystems? Truthfully, the depletion of resources has been noticeable since the industrial revolution that took place in the 19th century, but has dramatically worsened over the last 50 year. Essentially, if we didn't over consume the planet's resources, the Overshoot Day wouldn't even exist – the same way that if people didn't spend money they didn't have, no one would ever go into debt.

👉 Overshoot Day will continue to prove prominent and relevant, as the forecasts are far from good – seeing as by 2050, humanity will "require" twice as many natural resources to meet its needs in comparison to 2020. The availability of these resources by then is looking more sparse by the day.

luscious green view

How is Overshoot Day calculated?

Every year, the American NGO Global Footprint Network uses more than 3 million pieces of statistical data, spanning around 200 countries, to calculate Overshoot Day. After this is done, Overshoot Day can then be calculated by dividing Earth's biocapacity by the average ecological footprint created – and then by multiplying this result by 365, or how many days are in a year.

The main goal of Overshoot Day is to raise awareness regarding the limited availability and regeneration of our natural resources, and to encourage humanity to measure the impact of its consumption on our ecosystems.

In case that didn't make sense, let's break it down further:

Calculating Overshoot Day isn't all that complicated. In fact, all that is needed to calculate Overshoot Day is to divide humanity's ecological footprint, or their annual consumption of ecological resources, by the planet's biocapacity – or the amount of resources that can be regenerated, as well as the amount of waste that can be absorbed in a year. 

💡 Please note: both of these figures are expressed in global hectares and are calculated based on the National Footprint Accounts.

Using all this data, the American NGO also estimated the number of planets that would be needed to compensate for our excessive consumption of resources – and they found out in 2022 that we would need 1.75 Earths to meet our current level of consumption. This is equivalent to 74% more resources than what our ecosystems currently provide.

marble on rocky earth against sunset

What's causing Overshoot Day to be so early?

There are several reasons why Overshoot Day continues to arrive earlier every year, such as increased greenhouse gas emissions created by human activity, more intensive agricultural practices, excess fishing, and deforestation.

As humans continue to engage in excessive and carbon intensive activities, Overshoot Day is likely to continue arriving closer and closer each year.

Here are some of the reasons why Overshoot Day arrives earlier each year:

Intensive Agriculture and Fishing Practices

Half of the Earth's biocapacity is used to feed us, and therefore – as our global human population continues to skyrocket, these resources will become even more sparse. In fact, according to the United Nations by 2100, there could be 11.2 billion people living on Earth – proving how we need to curate more sustainable patterns today.

Intensive agriculture and fishing practices contribute to:

  • Using too many resources, such as animals, but also natural resources – since agriculture consumes 70% of drinking water worldwide;
  • Excessive use of fossil fuels;
  • Contributes to deforestation, soil destruction, biodiversity depletion, marine ecosystem imbalance and atmospheric pollution.

💡 Lastly, these two modes of production lead to the depletion of biological resources. Therefore, over exploitation must give way to sustainable agriculture and fishing that is more respectful of the environment.

Ultimately, the WWF suggests slashing meat consumption in half, to push back the excessive fishing by 17 days, and to decrease global food waste by 50% worldwide to help push back this same date by 13 days.

fish

Deforestation

The loss of global forest biocapacity has a direct impact on global warming. By cutting down trees, humanity is robbing the planet of its natural carbon sinks. 

Remember, while trees absorb a portion of CO2 throughout their lifetime – once they've been cut down, they release all of the carbon dioxide emissions they've accumulated directly into the atmosphere. This further compromises our already questionable air quality and further impacts our already existing air pollution crisis.

Furthermore, deforestation impacts biodiversity, reduces the supply of food and raw materials, prevents the regulation of the water cycle, impacts our quality of life, and more.

💡 Did you know that every year, 100,000 km² of forest are destroyed, threatening millions of animal and plant species? 

Ultimately, forest conservation must be a priority. That's why WWF wants to reforest 350 million hectares of forests to help postpone Overshoot Day by eight days.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

We generate more emissions than the earth's natural carbon sinks are able to absorb in a year. These natural carbon sinks mostly consist of forests and oceans. 

As a result, according to "Earth Overshoot Day," the carbon footprint for Overshoot Day in 2023 represented 61% of humanity's ecological footprint.

Evidently, since the industrial revolution – our GHG emissions have been steadily piling up in the atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, human activities, such as the extraction, burning and use of fossil fuels, emit a large portion of these greenhouse gases. 

In 2021, CO2 emissions reached 36.4 billion tons.

In 2023, CO2 emissions reached 37.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions – an all time high for the planet.

Beyond accelerating global warming, the industry also participates in the depletion of natural resources. For example, fossil fuel reserves are melting away.

As of 2020, there are only :

  • 139 years of coal reserves ;
  • 49 years of natural gas;
  • 57 years of oil.

‍💡 In order to rectify the amount of emissions contributing to Overshoot Day, the WWF recommends reducing humanity's carbon footprint by 50% to push back Overshoot Day by 93 days – equivalent to three months.

cut down trees in barren area

How can we postpone Overshoot Day?

The best way to postpone Overshoot Day is to reduce the consumption of natural resources involves slowing down our current economic model. Therefore, we need to transition from the use of an unsustainable model of over consumption to a sustainable model – which is a circular economy.

Essentially, the best way to ensure Overshoot Day is postponed every year would be to encourage our society to make do with less – and to vouch for the infamous saying, "less is more" – as in terms of Overshoot Day, it is!

Postponing Overshoot Day is possible by protecting the environment while ensuring the well-being of individuals relies on sustainable production, reasoned consumption and efficient waste management.

This may seem like an overwhelming agenda, but there are several ways to approach delaying Overshoot Day, such as by:

  • Eco-designing products by taking into account the life cycle of the product or service to determine both their environmental and social impact;
  • Limiting food and resource waste – seeing as every year, one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption around 1.3 billion tons of food per year, is wasted;
  • Extending the life of objects (reuse, repair, belly up, rent and buy second-hand), in order to reduce the extraction of natural resources and, by extension, the extraction of resources – which is a polluting process. This can also be known as upcycling;
  • If an item is beyond repair but doesn't need to be thrown away, remain mind of recycling waste.

Protecting natural carbon sinks

The ocean absorbs 30% of our carbon emissions, making it the most important carbon sink in the world – but it is obviously not the only one.

Several actions can be taken to safeguard our natural carbon sinks:

  • Preserve existing carbon sinks and create artificial sinks through new technologies;
  • Restore forests that have been over exploited (those converted to cattle ranching, for example);
  • Reforesting tropical forests (which capture more CO2 and act as a barrier to floods and hurricanes in coastal urban areas in the tropics and sub-tropics);
  • Fighting ocean acidification through sustainable fishing.

Decarbonizing the economy

With a goal in mind to limit global temperature from exceeding 2°C by the end of the century and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – decarbonizing the economy seems inevitable, but there are approachable ways for all of us to successfully work towards this goal.

For instance, switching to the use of renewable energies is one of the best ways to limit rising worldwide temperatures. This is one of the objectives set by the United Nations. Thus, the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix should be increased by 2030.

👉 In addition to this, we must do without fossil fuels, especially in our production processes – as this remains one of the most detrimental components to Overshoot Day and global warming as a whole.

solar panels in green field

Overall, Overshoot Day is a reminder of how we are treating the planet – and it still isn't too late to turn it all around. We can all make a difference, whether in our daily lives or as a cog in the machine of a big company, to delay Overshoot Day and protect our planet from the negative effects of global warming.

What About Greenly?

If reading this article about Overshoot Day has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. We offer a free demo for you to better understand our platform and all that it has to offer – including assistance with boosting supplier engagement, personalized assistance, and new ways to involve your employees.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

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