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Balance 'by disaster or design': Why should we be worried by Earth Overshoot Day? | Euronews Answers

Balance 'by disaster or design': Why should we be worried by Earth Overshoot Day? | Euronews Answers

By Rachael Kennedy
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July 29 marks the date that scientists have calculated humanity has depleted its annual limit of natural resources. But what does this actually mean, and why should we be concerned?


July 29, is Earth Overshoot Day.

It is the day that researchers have marked as the moment humanity has used up its annual limit of the planet's natural resources.

Therefore, from July 30, the world will be borrowing these resources from future yearly ecological budgets, according to Global Footprint Network, the independent think tank behind the research.

A basic knowledge of accounting here demonstrates that an annual spending total that amounts to more than what is being renewed does not point to a sustainable future on planet Earth.

So is this something for concern? And where is this research coming from?

Should I be worried?

The human race used up this year's ecological budget in its fastest time ever — something that has been steadily increasing over the past two decades.

Last year, Overshoot Day was recorded on August 1, while in 1999 this date was recorded in October, more than two months later.

Speaking to Euronews, Global Footprint Network said a growing deficit in the Earth's resources would be temporary — this means we would have a choice to either work as a race to fix the deficit ourselves, or wait for the planet to rebalance itself via humanitarian disaster.

"Operating out of balance with the Earth's natural ecosystems can only be temporary," Laetitia Mailhes, the group's special initiatives director, said.

"Whether by disaster or by design, humanity will be brought back in balance with the Earth.

"Which path do we choose? One-planet misery or one-planet prosperity?"

How much are we actually using?

By Global Footprint Network's calculations we are using the natural resources of 1.75 planet Earths, which is edging closer to humanity using double the annual resources than are actually available.

Breaking this down further, researchers found that if the entire world's population lived a lifestyle like those in the US, we would need the resources of five planet Earths.

Several European countries also find themselves high in this list, with Russia topping it for the continent, and Germany and Switzerland following in second and third places respectively.

The network also looked into the quantity of natural resources needed to meet the demands of individual countries.

Japan topped the list for domestic overuse of natural resources, with researchers saying that to satisfy the demand of its population, the resources of 7.7 Japans would be needed.

European countries again scored highly on the list, with Italy coming in on an overall second place, and Switzerland and the UK ranking in third and fourth overall places respectively.

Differing Overshoot Day dates for 2019 were then calculated based upon the ecological footprint of each country in comparison to global biocapacity — i.e. if the entire world lived by the ecological footprint of a certain country, what would be the revised date of Overshoot Day?


Across the entire world, Qatar had the earliest date at February 11, while Luxembourg, on February 16, came second.

Luxembourg, therefore, recorded the earliest date for Overshoot Day across all countries in the European Union, whereas Romania recorded the latest date on July 12.

What is the data and how is it being calculated?

The data used in the researcher's calculations is compiled from individual countries and the United Nations.

Mailhes told Euronews the most recent UN data, from 2016, was used alongside "more recent data regarding CO2 emissions, deforestation, latest research, etc."

When asked about any pitfalls or concerns about the validity of the data, she added: "If anything, our data may slightly under-represent the true state of our ecological deficit."


"But it is a starting point," she said. "It definitely provides the basic threshold for sustainability."

The think tank further warned that any changes it made to the date of Overshoot Day were due to "revised calculations, not ecological advances on the part of humanity."

It added: "We are well over budget, and that debt is compounding."

"It is an ecological debt, and the interest we are paying on that mounting debt — food shortages, soil erosion, and the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere — comes with devastating human and monetary costs."

What can we do about it?

Researchers estimate that humanity can pull back its usage of natural resources from 1.75 planet Earths to one-planet compatibility before 2050, only if we work to also move back the Earth Overshoot Day by five days each year.


There are also five suggested categories of solutions for the world's population to take into consideration, according to the Global Footprint Network:

  • Managing and developing city living by cutting back 50% on driving, which could move Earth Overshoot Day back by 11.5 days

  • Decarbonising the economy by investing in renewable energy technologies would heavily reduce a country's carbon emissions. In fact, researchers say that by cutting carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels by 50% could move the Overshoot Day back by 93 days

  • A focus on producing, distributing and consuming food, such as cutting meat out of a population's diet could influence more than a quarter of the global ecological footprint

  • Taking more care of the planet's biological resources, including our many forests which reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

  • Tackling the issue of our ever-growing population by empowering women in all areas of life, which could lead to lower reproductive rates

In the meantime, the UN suggests each individual in society can play their part by shortening the length of time in the shower to save water, focus on recycling, and cutting single-use plastics out of their lives.

You can also work out your personal Earth Overshoot Day by using the Footprint Calculator.

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