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Nature

This Year’s Earth Overshoot Day Is Later Than Usual, But It’s Not Necessarily Good News

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 21 2020, 15:50 UTC

BrimaFilm/Shutterstock

Humanity’s demand for ecological resources continues to outpace how much the natural world can generate every year. For this reason, the Global Footprint Network marks Earth Overshoot Day, the date each year when we have consumed more than the sustainable share of resources that Earth can replenish that year.

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Since the 1970s, this has happened earlier and earlier every year. For 2020, Earth Overshoot Day has been calculated to occur on August 22. This is slightly later than the last couple of years; 2019's was on July 29. The shift back is positive, but does not have a positive cause behind it.

Unfortunately, the reason for the later date this year is not due to an important switch to sensible consumption policies from industrialized countries. It's a consequence of the changes brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of resource usage and carbon emissions, which means it isn't down to long-term change. The accompanying report reveals we are using about 60 percent more ecological resources than Earth can produce in a year, and that can’t go on forever.

The date is calculated by looking at humanity’s ecological footprint in energy production, food consumption, and usage of natural resources. The partial or complete lockdowns in many countries this year has led to a dramatic reduction of carbon emission, which helped to shift the data back this year.

Another important factor is the decrease in deforestation compared to 2019, due to a decrease in demand because of production grinding to a halt. Food consumption and production networks have been impacted by the pandemic but the report's authors believe that this has led to more waste in the richer parts of the world and more malnutrition in populations that affect the global ecological footprint very little.

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In an online presentation, Dr Mathis Wackernagel discussed the importance of moving the date and how this should be done “by design and not by disaster.” Already, cutting food waste in half around the world would push the date back 13 days. Interventions on energy that will help us tackle the climate crises will push it back even further.

Although the network stresses that not all countries are equally responsible for the date each year being increasingly early, widespread political solutions to these ecological problems have to be implemented sooner rather than later. 

Infographic showing Earth overshoot day by country. Global Footrpin Network

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