This time last year we had already overshot our yearly carrying capacity by three weeks. This
That means that on 22 August this year we will have globally
consumed and wasted more of the earth’s biological carrying capacity than is
available for a whole year.
But, it comes three weeks later this year. This is a welcome shift.
Overshoot Day is calculated using two factors. Our Ecological Footprint, and the Earth’s
Biocapacity. Ecological Footprint is how
much biological productive area it takes to provide for the demands of all
people. Biocapacity is the capacity of
Earth to provide for these demands plus absorb the waste we create. Since the late 1960s our Ecological Footprint
has consistently been greater than the earth’s biocapacity. That is unsustainable. That is untenable.
An analogy may help.
Suppose you begin with $1,000.
Each year you spend $1,100 and you get back $1,000. So, you begin the next year with $1,000, but
owing $100 from the previous year. So,
you effectively begin with $900. Suppose
you continue spending at the rate of $1,100 each year, and get back
$1,000. Then, simple arithmetic tells
you that you are steadily reducing your capital. You could, if you wished, calculate the date
on each year when you have spent more than you began the year with. That is Earth Overshoot Day.
But, this year, we put back the date of Overshoot by
three weeks. This is the greatest
“recovery” we have made since Earth Overshoot Day was first calculated, in the
1960s. The last time Overshoot Day was
at this time of the year was in 2005 – fifteen years ago!
simple answer is covid-19. During this
pandemic we consumed less, we travelled less, we used less energy, and we
chopped down fewer trees. The biocapacity
of Earth did not increase, our global footprint decreased - by 9.3% according
to one estimate.1
So, have we turned the corner and begun a journey of
recovery and healing?
Before we get to complacent, it pays to delve
further into the idea of overshoot. August
22nd is the day on which Earth as a whole overshoots its biocapacity
limit. Many countries consume at such a
level that overshoot day arrives much earlier in the year. For the USA, Canada, Australia, and UAE overshoot
is in March. The Scandinavian nations
overshoot between late March and the middle of April. Europeans overshoot in April and May. New Zealand and Japan do so in May also. China overshoots in June.
At the other end of the scale, nations such as
Indonesia, Ecuador, Iraq, Nicaragua, and Cuba all overshoot in early to mid-December. A few almost manage to live within the
biocapacity of the earth; for example, Kyrgyzstan (26th December),
Myanmar (25th December), and Niger (25th December.)
The conclusion is obvious. If we wish to reduce our ecological footprint
so that we do not overstep our biocapacity then it is the rich nations of the
world that are going to have to make the crucial, and larger, steps.
We’ve made a start - three weeks worth.
Are these the first steps on a road to living within our means? Will we keep making such important steps next year?
1ht1. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2020/06/05/press-release-june-2020-earth-overshoot-day/ accessed 20 August 2020