Each year, Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day, which in 2016 fell on August 8.
Earth Overshoot Day refers to the day each year at which we, as humans, have taxed the Earth beyond its capacity to provide for us. By looking at the planet’s biocapacity and humanity’s ecological footprint, Global Footprint Network determines the point at which we essentially run out of our biological checking account and have to dip into the savings, so to speak.
When we reach Earth Overshoot Day, we’ve essentially run out of what the Earth can provide sustainably, and anything we use past that isn’t sustainable, meaning that those excess resources are essentially gone forever. Bear in mind that there were almost five months left in 2016 when this year’s Overshoot Day happened.
The whole point of sustainable energy and food is that we don’t have to destroy anything in order to create it: We don’t have to cut down rainforest to grow crops or raise cattle, we don’t have to burn fossil fuels to power our cities, and so on.
Each year that we overshoot, we have less to go around the next year—less fuel, less food, less arable land. From a social justice point of view, this also means that poor people suffer more because when there are fewer resources, history tells us that those resources get snapped up by the richest nations. And unfortunately, history also seems to prove that richer nations tend to be more wasteful than poorer ones.
Earth Overshoot Day 2016 came five days earlier than last year, and 11 days earlier than it did in 2014, which means we’re spending past our means, so to speak, by a growing margin each year.
The concept of Earth Overshoot Day is of course an abstraction, as the planet doesn’t function according to human calendars, but it’s also easy to understand, which makes it a valuable tool for explaining environmental policy.