Today is Earth Overshoot Day: What Does That Mean?

Thursday, July 29, is 2021's Earth Overshoot Day, a day marking the date when humanity is projected to have used up all the planet's biological resources regenerated in one year.

"Overshoot is the underlying cause of most environmental ills from biodiversity loss to deforestation, water and air pollution, fisheries collapse, and greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, leading to ever wilder weather patterns. Climate change is one of the prominent symptoms," Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network (GFN), told Newsweek.

The GFN, a research organization that provides data and tools needed to help humans operate within Earth's ecological limits, calculates the date of Earth Overshoot Day annually.

Determining the date this day falls on is actually much like how a bank tracks income against expenditures. UN data on resources such as biologically productive forests, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds and urban areas are combined and measured against the demand for those resources.

Some of the demands include plant-based foods, timber, livestock, fish, and forests' capacity to absorb carbon dioxide emissions.

Today, humanity uses about 74 percent more than what Earth's ecosystems can regenerate. This means that in order to continue living the way we do now, we'd need the resources of about 1.7 Earths, according to a report from the GFN.

"With almost half a year remaining, we will already have used up our quota of the Earth's biological resources for 2021," Susan Aitken, the leader of the Glasgow City Council, told DW News, a media organization based in Germany, "If we need reminding that we're in the grip of a climate and ecological emergency, Earth Overshoot Day is it."

In 2020, Earth Overshoot Day took place on August 22, as the supply and demand of natural resources were lower than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, the day came at the earliest date on record, coming on July 25, which means this year's Overshoot Day is extremely early as well.

According to Wackernagel, as this year's Earth Overshoot Day has moved back to the pre-pandemic date, it suggests that our ever-growing crisis has returned to "business-as-usual."

"We are accelerating the depletion of the planet on which every economy depends," he said. "This puts all countries at risk, particularly those who are already running an ecological deficit, like the US."

According to the International Energy Agency, CO2 emissions related to energy— mostly fossil fuels like coal—are projected to grow by 4.8 percent this year over 2020 levels.

"Waiting to address the overshoot risk has no advantage, and hurts primarily oneself, whether you are a city, country, company or a household. It is in our self-interest to get ready for the future we can anticipate," said Wackernagel. "The future has never been more predictable – one of more climate change and less resources."

Representatives of national governments will gather in November at what has been deemed the "last-chance summit for global climate action—the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow," said a press release from the GFN.

"The pandemic has demonstrated that societies can shift rapidly in the face of disaster. But being caught unprepared brought great economic and human cost," said Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom.

With growing concerns including recent extreme weather events, will be divulging opportunities to reverse overshoot and highlight ways to make a difference every day leading up to COP26 on the website.

"When it comes to our predictable future of climate change, and resource constraints," Hanscom said, "individuals, institutions and governments who prepare themselves will fare better. Global consensus is not a prerequisite to recognizing one's own risk exposure, so let's take decisive action now, wherever we are."

Update 7/29/21 3:05 PM - this story has been updated with additional information and comments from Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network.

Thursday, July 29, is Earth Overshoot Day, the day that marks when humanity has used up all natural resources from the planet that it can regenerate in a year. In this photo released by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory 22 December 1992, an image of northeast Africa and Arabia was taken from an altitude of 300,000 miles by the Galileo spacecraft 09 December as it left the Earth en route to Jupiter -/AFP via Getty Images