Earth Overshoot Day: how do we handle our resources?

The exploitation of Earth is increasing every year, with more resources consumed than the planet can provide. Earth Overshoot Day highlights this issue by precisely defining the date on which annual resources are exhausted. In 2023 it falls on 2 August

Humanity is living beyond its means, which results in an environmental dilemma – because it is living at the expense of the Earth. Every year, the consumption of resources outstrips the natural regenerative capacity of our planet. Experts define an “Earth Overshoot Day” to highlight this onerous overuse; this year it falls on 2 August. That’s the day on which all the resources that our planet can provide in the entire calendar year are exhausted.

And that means that, in little more than half a year, humanity has already used up nature’s renewable resources. Or to put in another way: in 2023 each of us will use, on average, the natural resources of around 1.7 Earths.

This dramatically highlights the fact that we have exceeded our planetary boundaries. Sustainable existence would mean an Overshoot Day that falls on 31 December – or even later. In this case, humanity would only require the resources that it can regenerate, or less.

How is Overshoot Day determined?

Overshoot Day views the Earth’s resources from the perspective of supply and demand. The supply side equates to the entire biocapacity of Earth – the amount of resources it can provide and the amount of waste and emissions it can absorb. Forests, fields, lakes, seas and other natural ecosystems are key here. Along with these habitats, differing biological productivity plays a decisive part in determining biocapacity. 

The demand side equates to the environmental footprint of humanity as a whole – the surface area required for the production of resources that all of us require in a given year.

Once demand outstrips the supply of available resources, you have “overshoot”. The exact formula for determining Earth Overshoot day is: 

(biocapacity of Earth/environmental footprint of Earth’s population) * 365 days

How did Earth Overshoot Day come about?

Back in the 1970s, Earth Overshoot Day fell in December. Since then it’s steadily shifted to earlier in the year, and it has been arriving in August since the 2010s. There are many different reasons for this trend:
 

  • The global population is constantly increasing
  • Increased prosperity has resulted in greater consumption of goods
  • Natural ecosystems have been transformed for agricultural, industrial or residential purposes

 

All of this accelerates climate change, which in turn contributes to the loss of natural ecosystems.

The trend is absolutely clear: we are using more resources all the time. If the world’s population continues to grow in line with UN forecasts, there will be 9.7 billion people on the plant by 2050 – and every year they will consume the resources of three Earths. To prevent that, we need to make our lifestyles sustainable. 

What are some of the solutions for preventing Earth Overshoot Day falling earlier every year?

In 2020, COVID-19 showed us that transformation is possible. Through actions taken to combat the pandemic and the reduction in economic activity, Earth Overshoot Day didn’t fall until 16 August – around two weeks later than the previous year. But this trend didn’t last long; in 2021 it was back to 29 July.

The strategy for a sustainable future is based on three central aspects:

  • Efficiency: better usage of resources so that goods are produced with less energy and resources.
  • Consistency: linear production replaced by the circular economy, which minimises waste. Renewable energy is key here.
  • Sufficiency: A sustainable change in lifestyle under which the economy is geared to moderate consumption of resources rather than constant growth. The goal is to fulfil the wishes and requirements of our society without disproportionate waste or consumption. 

The #MoveTheDate campaign aims to offer specific approaches. It puts the focus on five areas (planet, cities, population, energy and food) to push Earth Overshoot Day back to 31 December. 

Ultimately, we can only shift Earth Overshoot Day to later in the year if humanity adopts a way of living that is more sufficient and efficient. This includes each of us reducing our own carbon footprint. What can private individuals do? Find out in our FAQ on meaningful measures for counteracting climate change

What is myclimate doing for #MoveTheDate?

myclimate offers solutions for effective commitment to sustainability and climate protection. Become a myclimate partner and take an active stand for the climate by calculating your emissions; this will let you know what steps you can take to effectively reduce your carbon footprint.

 

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You can find further exciting information on the subject of climate change and climate protection in our climate booklet

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