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!
How? The 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