Earth Overshoot Day tells us that we are not just exhausting the resources of the planet on which we depend, but are accelerating the pace. Campaigner Maureen Medina looks at what we can do.
Created and promoted by our good friends at Global Footprint Network, Earth Overshoot Day marks the day when humanity has consumed all the renewable resources that the planet can produce over the entire year. That is because we are using them faster than the Earth can renew them, and the earlier in the year it falls, the more we are using up and the less there are left for the following year.
This year, Earth Overshoot day (EOD) falls on July 28th. The only time it has fallen earlier was in 2020, when lockdowns led to drastically reduced economic activity.
Global Footprint Network identifies many drivers of our crisis, and many solutions. Many of these require action on a mass scale, by governments, major corporations and international institutions. All are vital.
There are also actions those of us who live in the high-consuming parts of the world can undertake as individuals. Cumulatively, such actions can make a very significant difference, "moving the date" of EOD back significantly.
You can find out more about your individual impact by using GFN's fascinating, but sobering, Footprint Calculator. Here are some of the changes you can consider.
If every other family had one less child and parenthood was postponed by two years, by 2050 we would move Overshoot Day by a massive 49 days.
Global Footprint Network are commendably clear about the role population plays in driving overshoot, and the value of positive empowering actions such as education and family planning which help to reduce it. Worldwide, half of pregnancies are unintended and an estimated 270 million women of reproductive age have limited or no access to reproductive healthcare. People living in lower-income regions are three times more likely to have unintended pregnancies than those in high-income regions.
For those of us who do have choices about the size of our families, choosing a smaller one (or no children at all) is one of the most impactful choices that we can make - especially if we live where our environmental impact is high.
We can also support the work of those who are working to protect and enhance gender equality and reproductive rights, allowing everyone the opportunity to choose the size of their families. Examples include our own Empower to Plan project, girls' leadership clubs, and mobile hospitals and backpack nurses, which can turn hard-to-reach places into safe spaces where communities can access family planning and reproductive healthcare services.
Meat consumption across the world has increased significantly, but meat production is inefficient and resource-intensive in comparison to most plant foods. If we replaced 50% of global meat consumption with plant-based food, we would move Overshoot Day 7 days, as a result of saved carbon emissions and land-use alone. (If we include methane emissions, the impact is even greater.)
The Ecological Footprint of a plant-based diet is 2.5 times lower than that of a mainly animal-based diet. Eliminating meat consumption one day per week would move Overshoot Day by 1.8 days.
Learn more about food-based solutions here.
If we reduced the energy required to cook by one-third in high-income region households, Overshoot Day would be pushed by 0.9 days. High-efficiency appliances such as smaller fridges, pressure cookers, electric stoves and heat pumps will all save energy, while switching out your appliances - once they are no longer functional - could move Overshoot day by 6 days.
If 80% of our food was locally sourced, we’d move the date by 1.6 days. Transportation associated with food production accounts for about 11% of carbon emissions.
Globally, cutting food waste in half would move Overshoot Day by 13 days. A pound of food is wasted every 1.7 seconds and, in 2011, FAO estimated that around a third of the world’s food was lost or wasted every year. Project Drawdown also identifies tackling food waste as one of the most effective solutions to bring down global warming.
Cutting in half the ecological footprint of our clothing would move Overshoot back by 5 days. The first step is to use clothes longer, purchase them second-hand, or donate whatever clean items you absolutely don’t want.
In 2011, about 80 million tons of textile fibres were produced, only about 1% of worn clothes were recycled, and 61% of fibres were synthetic. Fibre production and sourcing require water, fossil fuels, and land - choosing natural fibers, like cotton cuts that impact. The use of organic cotton as virgin material saves about 91% water and 46% CO2.
How we care for our clothes when we have them is also important. Air dry your laundry if you can. If household dryer usage was reduced by 75%, it would move Overshoot Day by 1.3 days. About 18% of total residential energy consumption is from laundry activities, 71% of which is from the dryer. Sunlight can disinfect and dry your clothing sans fossil fuels or harmful irritants.
If we doubled the life-span of our furniture, Overshoot could be moved by 1 day.
If we reduce our driving by 50% globally, and replace one-third of car miles with public transportation, walking or biking, Overshoot day would move back 13 days.
Widespread use of electric or e-bikes can reduce car use by 15%, moving Overshoot day by 4 days. E-bikes are especially beneficial to cyclists with physical limitations or those who travel frequently, up hills, and long distances.
Cycling is not always easy or safe, however, so lobby authorities to improve bicycle infrastructures. That could increase bicycle trips up to 35% of all journeys, pushing Overshoot Day by 9 days.
Find carshare programs. If used en masse, carshare programmes could help households reduce their individual transportation emissions by 4-18%, pushing Overshoot day by 3 days.
What we drive matters too. Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars make a difference, but shifting from fossil fuel to energy powered vehicles would push Overshoot day by 2.5 days, if not more.
As we all know by now, cutting down on our flights makes a big difference. About 50% of all flights travel distances of 900km or less, 25-30% of air travel is business-related, and air travel accounts for almost 3% of global carbon emissions. If we cut our collective air travel for tourism in half, we would move Overshoot by one day. If businesses replace travel with virtual meetings and as individuals and families we consider proximity tourism, staying local or traveling nearby, we can make a real difference.
As these examples show, changing our daily activities can make a real difference to the level of overshoot. But it isn't always easy to make changes - our options can be limited by life circumstances, income, and a lack of options. Nor can these kinds of changes solve the problem themselves. That's why it's so important to campaign and pressure governments to make big changes too.
The Earth Overshoot Day website has much more information about the solutions that are needed from the smallest scale to the biggest. It shows us that solutions to our problems are available, if we have and can create the will to implement them. In it's words, we can #movethedate through the Power of Possibility.
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