Earth Overshoot Day

  • By: Owen McComasky
  • Date: September 2, 2020
  • Time to read: 3 min.

Earth Overshoot Day in 2020 was 22nd August. What does that mean? How does it affect us?

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

Earth Overshoot Day is the date on which all the resources that our planet can generate in one year have been depleted. 


In the same way that there is too much month at the end of our money, the energy we overuse and the resources we overconsume beyond this date contribute to a global deficit of resources, such as food, clean drinking water, life on land & underwater, wood/paper, clean air, building materials, gadgets, 


The term was coined by Andrew Simms – climate activist and author of “Ecological Debt: The Health of the Planet and the Wealth of Nations” – and has created collaborations between New Economics Foundation, Global Footprint Network and WWF in an attempt to educate individuals, organisations and governments. They are also providing “decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits”.


The two main factors calculated in deciding the overshoot date are:

  1. The Earth’s biocapacity

  2. Humanity’s Ecological Footprint

The Earth’s biocapacity is the amount of resources it can provide its inhabitants with. This includes CO2-reducing forestry, fruits & vegetables, livestock & wildlife (including ocean wildlife), and land for agriculture, existing buildings & infrastructure. It’s basically our planet’s supply line.


Humanity’s Ecological Footprint is the demand for that supply. Our demand for food, our demand for housing, our demand for energy & heat. It’s that hamburger you ordered, the home you are renting, the office you worked in before COVID-19 made working from home the standard practice, it’s those cosy evenings on the couch watching Netflix. 


Which activities are using up most of our resources? Is it deforestation? Overfishing? The meat and dairy industry? Fossil fuels?


Actually, yes. It’s all this and more. All large-scale operations which create CO2 emissions share the consequences here. The more we demand of these resources, the bigger humanity’s ecological footprint is and the sooner Earth Overshoot Day hits our calendars.


What is my impact and how can I do my part?

Wow. You’ve asked a tough question. It shows that you are ready to make some positive changes. Let’s break down the individual contributions an individual makes in determining your own Earth Overshoot day (which you can calculate below):


  • Meat & dairy consumption
  • The quality and source of your food
  • Housing circumstances
  • Family size
  • Energy consumption
  • Waste generation
  • Transport methods and frequency


Above are the key themes in determining your individual ecological footprint. Of course, if you live off-grid in a cabin made from repurposed wood and grow your own food, you will obviously make less of an impact on anyone living alone in a suburban home, feasting on microwave dinners and unable to recycle or compost any of their waste. Since that is simply is not a desirable or feasible option for billions of people, there are plenty of practices we can take to reduce our waste, conserve water, eat more healthily and consume greener energy.


Reducing your carbon footprint (have you read our article on that yet?), consuming less meat, fish and dairy, and striving to be more energy-efficient will take you a long way. If you do all that but still fly long distances regularly, you may find that you still may be consuming more than the planet can absorb and regenerate. Is it possible to travel by train instead, or even taking fewer, longer holidays?


We can’t always make the perfect choice, but please do consider your options. Otherwise, you may discover you’ve already maxed out your environmental credit card.


Bonus Fact

Did you know…you can calculate how many planets your lifestyle requires? Check out Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint Calculator to find out when your personal Earth Overshoot Day is!


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