Earth Overshoot Day: earliest humans exhausted 1 year of planet’s resources, at 29 July

3-min read • It would take 1.75 Earths for us to consume at this rate sustainably.

firefighting looking over a forest fire

Today is Earth Overshoot Day — we have now used up more ecological resources than the Earth can produce and renew in a year, and there are still five months to go until the year ends.

What does that mean?

This means whatever natural resources you use from this day until December 31 are in excess, and effectively a “loan” from the future. Let’s walk through this with an analogy: imagine one year’s worth of Earth’s resources are equivalent to your salary.

Now you’ve completely spent your salary about 18 days into the month, with 12 more to go until your next pay check. You’ll then start to embroil yourself in deeper and deeper debt, until it eventually reaches a breaking point. Except you can’t even be saved by bankruptcy. Not an ideal scenario, is it?

Earth’s resources are finite, and we are in a climate emergency. Today is a warning about how wrong we are currently getting things because this isn’t an overdraft we can dip into and pay back. 

—Aaron Kiely, climate campaigner, Friends of the Earth

How did it come about?

Created by the Global Footprint Network in 1986, Earth Overshoot Day tracks the Ecological Footprint of humanity’s demands for food, timbre, fibres, carbon sequestration and accommodation of infrastructure, with carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels accounting for 60% of the damage.

The costs of this overspending are increasingly evident, as seen by deforestation, soil erosion, species loss, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Of course, not all countries are equally guilty of the drawdown. The richer, more industrially developed (and oil-rich) nations are more so than the poorer, developing ones.

figure showing earth overshoot day for countries

More frightening numbers: if the whole world lived like the United States, it would require 5 (FIVE!) Earths to consume sustainably. It would take 7.7 Japans for the Land of the Rising Sun to meet the demands of its citizens.

chart of earth overshoot day from 1971 to 2019

Earth Overshoot Day has creeped up two months over the past two decades, having never been later than December 31 (i.e. fully sustainable consumption) since 1970. The good news is that the rate that the date has been moving forward has slowed down.

But let’s not pat ourselves on the back just yet. The true goal is to move the date backwards, as with the Global Footprint Network’s #MoveTheDate campaign, by five days each year. This would enable the world to reach “one-planet compatibility” by 2050.

How can we #MoveTheDate?

Five key areas have been earmarked as significant opportunities: cities, energy, food, planet and population.

five key areas to #movethedate
Source: Earth Overshoot Day | Global Footprint Network

This means we need to think about building smart and green infrastructure, investing in renewable energy, buying locally, conserving habitats and advocating education. The impact that we can make to reverse the trend is very real: cutting CO₂ emissions from burning fossil fuels by half would bring Earth Overshoot Day back 93 days.

Some of these solutions requires intervention at a political level, but do not be mistaken about the meaningful actions you can take as an individual. Think about how you consume, what you can do to influence those around you to raise a collective voice, and push for environmental policies from your political leaders.

We have only got one Earth – this is the ultimately defining context for human existence. We can’t use 1.75 without destructive consequences.

—Mathis Wackernagel, co-inventor of Ecological Footprint accounting and founder of Global Footprint Network