The Earth's resources are running on borrowed time, and there's lesser time than we think.
Earth Overshoot Day is the day when humanity has used all the biological resources that Earth can regenerate during the entire year. From now on, we’re running on a deficit, and it is not too long before the planet decides we are not worth the loan it so often grants us. The issue is not a matter to be taken lightly and is certainly not up for debate.
The first Earth Overshoot Day was on 25 December 1971. The most recent one was on 28 July 2022. Despite the pandemic and the world shutting down in 2020, we reached the overshoot on August 22. This year, we have already used up about 1.9 trillion metric tons of renewable resources and 2.7 trillion metric tons of nonrenewable resources.
We did not get here overnight. This is a result of years of accumulated pressure on our natural resources. The closer it gets to the halfway mark of the year, the more serious this issue becomes. Collectively, we reached this overconsumption point on 28 July 2022, but certain countries did so, even before this. Qatar, for example, overshot as early as February 10 2022. Countries like UAE, Canada and the United States did so by 13 March 2022. These facts and statistics are overwhelming, but one thing is certain – solutions exist.
A problem of this scale cannot be solved easily by one person. What we need is a movement and institutional shift in not only how we use our resources but also how we manage the needs of the people dependent on them. The most popular approach to the solution is a five-pronged one. Each of them is supported by individual and collective actions that are interrelated and complementary.
Earth’s natural capital is depleting every day and very little is done to preserve it. The life support of forests, water bodies and farms is under a lot of pressure and needs help. It needs conservation in the form of protection of biological hotspots, restoration of tropical forests and mangroves, and sustainable agricultural and fishing practices. Reforesting 350 million hectares of the forest alone would move Earth Overshoot Day by 8 days.
While our ancestors prided themselves on having planned cities, the current generation lives in unplanned and badly managed metropolitans. The present state of architecture pays no heed to the importance of city planning in the creation of a balance between natural capital and the population dependent on it. We need more smart cities, but also receptive and accountable administration. These smart cities should include energy-efficient buildings, integrated zoning, compact cities, and effective options for people-powered and public transportation. If we, around the world, reduce driving by 50% and replace one-third of car miles with public transportation and the rest with biking and walking, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 13 days.
Most people today are often under the impression that the energy resources we have are unlimited. The key to resolving this problem is inculcating mindfulness in our practices. We need to be more cognizant of our carbon footprint and increase the use of renewable energy resources over others. Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% will move Earth Overshoot Day by 93 days or more than three months.
(Also read: Putting a Price on Carbon)
Being vegan is a trend nowadays, but did you know that our meat consumption is one of the reasons why we are running out of resources at this pace? If we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and replaced these calories with a vegetarian diet, we would move Overshoot Day by 17 days. The amount of food waste we create and the meat we consume can be easily reduced at the micro level.
(Also read: 10 vegan restaurants in Mumbai that we love)
On a planet with finite resources, the more people, the less availability per person. The more pressure on the planet, the sooner it runs out of resources. While the topic of overpopulation is a sensitive one, capable of putting a stop to conversations on sustainability, it is also an important one. If every other family has one less child and parenthood is postponed by two years, by the year 2050 we would move Overshoot Day by 49 days.
Despite the gravity of this situation, it is imperative to remember that not all hope is lost. We are capable of change, if not institutionally, then at least individually. If all of us around the world made small changes, such as lowering speed limits, air-drying laundry, changing household lights to LEDs, wearing more sustainable clothing, and cutting out meat for just one day a week, we would contribute another couple of days in pushing back the moment of overshoot. If we move the date by 6 days each year, humanity can be out of overshoot before 2050.
Humanity just used up Earth’s entire 2016 budget. Business Insider, 16 August 2016,
How many Earths? How many countries? Earth Overshoot Day, 2022,
The current trend is not our destiny: #MoveTheDate. Earth Overshoot Day,