What Exactly is Earth Overshoot Day?

by Catie Brown
What exactly is Earth Overshoot Day and why is it important?

The Global Footprint Network determines an important date each year, but what exactly is Earth Overshoot Day? Based on 15,000 data points collected annually from each country by the United Nations, “Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year”.

Our livelihoods rely on renewable resources like water, forests, crops, and types of energy that are replenished as we move through the seasons (and with proper care). However, because of our lifestyles and growing populations, humans are consuming these resources faster than the Earth can regenerate them. This can contribute to water scarcity, poverty, hunger, and rising global temperatures in the coming decades, compounding the countries already facing these issues at staggering numbers.

When was Earth Overshoot Day 2020?

Earth Overshoot Day this year was August 22. This date was calculated through a combination of analysis of data provided by the United Nations and estimations allowing for drastic changes experienced during the coronavirus pandemic to calculate the “number of days that Earth’s biocapacity can provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint” (You can learn more about the exact calculation process here).

What exactly is Earth Overshoot Day and why is it important?

So, what does this year’s Earth Overshoot Day tell us?

Firstly, this year it came later than last year’s, which fell on July 29th. It could be a cause for small celebration that humanity managed to consume resources at a slower rate this year than last year. However, there is one glaring data point that caused this result and it is one we definitely do not want to repeat – the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting data predictions significantly skewed this year’s Earth Overshoot Day calculation. Entire countries shut down with the hope of slowing the spread of a disease that has altered the foundations of how we connect with one another. These shutdowns meant a decrease in our carbon emissions for the time being, as people no longer drove to work, entire cities couldn’t leave their homes, and flights were grounded for weeks.

What exactly is Earth Overshoot Day and why is it important?
Image Credit: “Calculating Earth Overshoot Day 2020: Estimates Point to August 22nd”; Global Footprint Network

But this is not a solution. Already, climate regulations are being reversed in an effort to boost business. And while we are not only facing a global pandemic, we are also facing increasingly intense and numerous wildfires, tropical storms, and other severe weather events as a result of a changing climate that impact communities who already face marginalization and discrimination. This year’s Earth Overshoot Day is focusing on how countries can recover from this devastating year in ways that reflect the future we want, where everyone can have access to their human rights and the benefits of a healthier planet. As Dr. Bruno Oberle, the Director General for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN), explained in a video marking the day, “We can create a world in which we consume the resources for one year in one year. And then we will create a future for our kids, for ourselves, for societies.”

What can you do to help?

Earth Overshoot Day promotes a campaign to #MovetheDate that re-directs consumption trends to improve people’s quality of life and the health of the planet. #MovetheDate focuses on promoting innovative solutions involving planetary health, the management of cities, the production of energy, the consumption of food, and population awareness. To see a map of events happening near you, check out this map. Every act of participation, however varied, can make an impact. And don’t forget to spread the word!

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