earth overshoot day

We are taking away from our future: Earth Overshoot Day 2020

The global Overshoot Day 2020 falls on August 22nd. Alarming? Yes – but the situation is even more dramatic in Germany, as our country Overshoot Day was already on May 3rd! It’s just that hardly anybody noticed it, since there were no activities on the day due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But what is Overshoot Day anyway?

Earth Overshoot Day Explained

Earth Overshoot Day is the day when our global demand for natural resources exceeds our planet’s capability to regenerate in a given year. This means it would ideally fall on December 31st every year, as humanity would then consume exactly as much as our Earth can repeatedly regenerate. Instead, we exceed the Earth’s annual biocapacity by consuming limited resources and emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere than can be absorbed. We are taking away from our future. It’s just like overfishing: if we fish more fish than can naturally reproduce, stocks will decline and eventually become scarce.

In addition, there are Overshoot Days for individual countries. When would Earth Overshoot Day be, if the whole world lived like the population of that country? You can find a complete list here.

What is the overshoot day and how is it calculated?
We all have just the one Earth, but we burden it disproportionately. source: Global Footprint Network / Earth Overshoot Day

How was Earth Overshoot Day 2020 calculated?

The calculation for Earth Overshoot Day is quite simple. We ask ourselves: for how many days will the annual biocapacity of the Earth suffice? First, we calculate how many resources can be regenerated in one year. This is made up of the global biologically productive land and sea area, including forests, arable and pasture land, fishing grounds and built-up land. The figure is expressed in global hectares, with a global average capacity per area for easy comparison.

Next, we calculate the global ecological footprint of humanity. This includes the need for plant-based foods, meat and fish, as well as forests to store CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Now, we divide the biocapacity of the earth through the ecological footprint of humanity. If both numbers were exactly the same – an ideal scenario – the result would be “1”. But on January 1st, the annual natural resources are far from exhausted, so we multiply the result by the 365 days of the year. Now the calculation makes more sense: in our example, the biocapacity would be exhausted on the last day of the year.

(Biocapacity of the Earth / Ecological footprint of Humanity) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day

As we know from mathematics lessons: the larger the denominator, the smaller the result. Thus, the more resources we consume, the fewer days we need to exhaust the Earth’s biocapacity. And the fewer resources we consume, the later is Earth Overshoot Day. A simple but illustrative calculation.

Situation in 2020

Earth Overshoot Day 2020, August 22nd: This is the day when we exceed the biocapacity of our planet this year. Every day that follows will be at the expense of our future.

But aren’t we on the right track, since Earth Overshoot Day last year was about 3 weeks earlier, on July 29th? Unfortunately not, considering that the day was postponed following the downturn in consumption and production due to the corona pandemic, and this development is accompanied by much suffering. As overshootday.org puts it: We must effect real change through design, not disaster. 

What is the situation like in Germany? If the whole world were to consume like we do here, the Earth’s biocapacity would have been exhausted by May 3rd. If we could count on more than two planets, our lifestyle would be sustainable – but we are shooting far beyond the limits of our one planet.

Earth Overshoot Days  1970 to 2020
To maintain global consumption levels in the long term, we would currently need 1.75 Earths source: Global Footprint Network / Earth Overshoot Day

Bracenet’s contribution to #movethedate

Earth Overshoot Day was designed to draw attention to this global issue and to #movethedate further back! We share that ambition with our mission:

Instead of using natural and limited resources for our products, we use resources that are, unfortunately, available plenty – ghost nets. By recovering and processing them into new products through upcycling, we protect marine life and preserve ecosystems. We keep the oceans clean and help to save them, for healthy seas are essential for our future and the Earth’s biocapacity.

What do we have to do to move World Overshoot Day to December 31?

What can we do? We must live more sustainable lives. But what does that mean exactly? We need to ensure that our natural resources last longer. For example, by designing energy-efficient cities with good public transport networks, moving to plant-based diets and reducing food waste, reforestation and marine conservation, and expanding renewable energy.

If we replace every second meat meal with vegetable dishes, we can postpone Overshoot Day by 5 days. If we cut our food waste in half, we can move it back by 13 more days. If we reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuel production by 50 %, we can delay Overshoot Day by a full three months. If we shift it by just 5 days each year, we can live off the annual biocapacity of our planet from 2050 onwards. It is possible – we just need the will to change things.

What can you do?

Of course, you alone have little influence on the date of Earth Overshoot Day. But every contribution counts, and you may wonder on what date it would fall if every person in the world lived like you did. With the Footprint Calculator you can find out! You can even change your answers afterwards to figure out how you would need to consume in order to live off only the one planet we have. Of course, you don’t have to do it all at once – sustainability should be fun and no one can tackle all problems at once. By the way, on this map you will find solutions that will help us to get closer to the 1-planet goal.

The WWF (German) also has a few tips on how we can help to postpone Overshoot Day in everyday life: For example, by switching to public transport and giving up our own cars, buying more regional food and reducing our food waste.

We also have 31 tips on how to avoid plastic – because that’s how we save our oceans and reduce the need for fossil fuels.

bracenet plastic free july
We have put together 31 tips for Plastic Free July – but of course they are great ideas for the whole year.

Looking ahead

Earth Overshoot Day sends an important signal: we are living beyond the means of our planet. This is not a new message, but a particularly poignant illustration. Join the mission and help us to #movethedate!

Header image: Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya on Unsplash

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