Global Overshoot Day
How can we sustainably use our precious natural resources?
Our planet is our life-line. It provides us with bountiful biological resources which sustain our livelihoods, economies, and long-term survival. From the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the technological device you are using to read this article – we are all relying on elements and materials from the Earth to function our lives as we know it.
What is Earth Overshoot Day?
According to the official Global Footprint Network, Global Overshoot Day “marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year”. If Global Overshoot Day (GOD) fell on December 31st every year, then the world’s resources could be regenerated for millennia to come. However, each year GOD arrives earlier and earlier. GOD in 2019 was on July 29th. This means every single day after July 29th was a state of ‘ecological deficit’. All the food, water, and energy we consumed after that date cannot be replenished. At this rate, we need at least 1.75 Earth’s to sustain us.
The problem with resources: what are we using and how much is left?
Our current global energy system is reliant on fossil fuels which are a limited resource. Oil reserves will be exhausted in the 2050s, coal is expected to run out by 2100, and gas will be fully extracted during 2070s.
With the population expected to hit 11 billion by 2100, we need to increase our food supply by 50% just to be able to feed everyone. At the same time, 1/3 of the food we produce every year for human consumption is wasted, and we are going to lose arable crop land as a result of climate change and loss of topsoil.
Freshwater makes up just 1% of global surface area. Global water demand is expected to increase by 20-30% by 2050. Already, a third of the global population do not have access to safe drinking water. It is clear that if things don’t change, we will have to compete for a dwindling resource which will have serious global health consequences.
Valuable metals such as zinc, silver, gold, and copper are being mined at an alarming rate. None of these metals are expected to last beyond 2050 if our extraction rates continue as normal. Silver is projected to run out in 15 years, zinc and lead in 20-25 years, and copper in 30-40 years. We have over-extracted these metals for commercial use in technology, cars, jewellery, kitchen ware, and so on.
Thankfully, there are positive actions we can take to harmonise our relationship with Earth’s resources. While there is a need for large-scale transformations such as decarbonisation of the economy, there are many more localised actions which you can take in your daily life to minimise your ecological footprint.
1 - Eat more plants. Currently, crops use 7% of the global land surface area while land set aside for livestock comprises 27% of global surface area. Increasing our consumption of plants and decreasing our consumption of animal products will therefore put less demand on the Earth’s space and resources. If we all halved our meat consumption, we would reduce 40% of our nitrogen emissions, reduce 40% of dietary GHG emissions, and use 23% land!
2 - Become a smart traveller and commuter. The transport sector is the third largest emitter of green-house gases. If we replace 1/3 of our car miles with miles taken by public transport, cycling, or walking, we would move GOD back by 11.5 days. Cycle, carpool, take public transport, or walk whenever you can!!
3- Offset your carbon emissions and support renewables. Reducing our carbon emissions pushes back GOD a whopping 93 days backwards! Offsetting any emissions you produce is a powerful action, whether it be donating to carbon offsetting charities, planting trees, or investing in renewable energy.
4- REDUCE, reuse, and recycle. With demand for resources at an all-time high we can’t afford to throw away perfectly good materials into landfill. There are so many ways you can positively reduce your consumption patterns. Buy consciously, shop for second-hand clothes, reuse glass and plastic containers, purchase zero waste items wherever possible, say no to single use plastics, and recycle EVERYTHING (yes, including textiles and metals!).
5 - Reducing your personal water usage. Reducing pressure on water resources starts at home. Change to water-saving taps and shower-heads, recycle your grey water, and grow native plants which don’t need as much watering.
This blog was contributed by Kelsey (20) is a young student from Australia who is passionate about environmental sustainability, international relations, and youth advocacy. She is studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Science with the aim of combining these two areas into a meaningful career in international environmental policy.
Follow Kelsey on Instagram: kelsey_gray4