Recently, I stumbled upon the website Earth Overshoot Day.
I’ve known about the concept of Earth Overshoot Day for a while now. It is defined as being;
…the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.
In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was a heartbreakingly early July 29th. In real terms, this means that we need over one-and-a-half planets to sustain the rate of human consumption.
Due to the Covid 19 outbreak, Earth Overshoot day falls on 22nd August, 2020 – later than the previous year. On the surface, this feels like cause for celebration – good news amidst the dark – but to me, it simply highlights the fact that even when so many nations effectively shut down, we’re still not staying within the planet’s ability to replenish its resources.
But I digress… On the website, there’s a calculator which allows you to estimate when your own personal Earth Overshoot Day is. I’ve had a go at these sorts of things before, via websites like the WWF. The results were not pretty. Partially, this was down to the level of accuracy – one isn’t able to select local produce, as I recall, and as far as I remember there are no options regarding the consumption of non-food items. The terrible results were also partially due to our heavy dependency on oil – for the past year, I’ve been doing 50miles per day in school drop-offs/pick-ups, and our house still runs on oil-fired central heating whilst being made of icy-cold rock.
As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for punishment, so I thought I’d have a go at this calculator and beat myself up a bit more about the fact that I’m overconsuming…
Except, given the results of the previous calculator, this was actually better than I’d feared.
Don’t misunderstand me – two months of overshoot is still two months too many – but actually, I expected to be closer to the achingly soon July date of 2019, or the still-too-early August 2020.
And in fairness to my former self, I filled this calculator in using my predicted miles for the coming academic year – 40 fewer every day (providing we all go back to school!) – now that both children are studying in the same place. That’s a huge relief.
And all this is well and good – I know where I need to cut back (oil!) – but what I really wanted to mention was the discrepency I came across the following morning. Because I intended to write about the calculator, I went back to check I’d got my numbers right. When I reached the end of this second calculation, I got a vastly different date – July 11th.
Confused, I went through each of the questions carefully and stumbled upon the one I hadn’t remembered to input extra detail into. It was a query which dealt with the consumption of objects around the house.
So, here are the answers I added:
Here are the answers which were automatically presumed:
As you can see, the difference between the responses isn’t huge. It’s not like the average is a ‘massive’ amount by modern consumer standards. But the difference in outcome is huge – 24th October to 11th July sort of huge.
That’s a whole 3 months and 13 days more resources used.
When we use these calculators, it’s easy to feel as though we’re not doing enough – not making any kind of difference – but that isn’t the case. The work we’re doing does matter and we should absolutely keep on doing it.
If you are going to have a go at one of these quizes, I would encourage you to fill it in multiple times. On completing it presuming that lockdown conditions continue for the year, for example, my overshoot day was December 3rd – simply by changing one aspect of our lives (namely travel).
By looking at the potentially huge impact of a single environmental decision, we can decide where best to personally focus our own efforts and where we can realistically make changes.
Coming out of lockdown, I’m definitely going to try and drive less, and to continue with my efforts to buy nothing new. Do you have any resolutions as this period of quarantine begins to ease off? I’d love to hear them, here or on Twitter.
3 Replies to “Earth Overshoot Day”
Thanks for sharing this link, I’ve finally managed to get it to work (the site kept crashing due to maintenance!) and like similar calculators, it’s a really interesting exercise. I was surprised how different the results were once I started changing things. We are lucky that we no longer have dependent children, don’t have to travel to work and have the time and resources to commit to reducing our footprint as much as possible ~ so I was really pleased to find our ‘consumption’ came in at 0.9 Earths with an overshoot date of 21st February 2021. BUT that is without any travel to the UK which obviously this year has been scuppered so far, adding one road trip took us to 1 Earth and 10th January 2021 (still good) but a return flight of three hours total blew us out of the water!!!! We continue to make as many small changes as we can because those tiny drops add up but the moral issue of living in Spain and having to travel to see family is still our biggest issue and ultimately we have some big decisions to make about that one!
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The international travel is always the hardest thing, I think. The last of our family in Denmark passed away in early 2018 which meant that the number of our trips reduced significantly but I don’t think there’s ever an easy balance where your loved ones are involved.
Even if we hadn’t had family abroad, I think that travelling is such an important thing to do. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t had the chance to go all over. We did a lot of the trips in the car so that we could have the dog with us and I think that helped keep the impact lower than it would have been. It did mean a huge change in *how* we travelled, though. The journey became part of the destination and we took the drive slowly – 2-3 days in total with stops at points of interest on the way.
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Yes, I think it’s always going to have to be a balancing act and you’re absolutely right, we have broadened our minds and horizons so much through travel and living in several different countries outside the UK, plus having family in Norway and Canada. Even 32 years ago when we left Cyprus, we chose to sail to Greece then drive back to the UK over several weeks rather than fly ~ all we had booked were the Mediterranean and cross-Channel ferries, everything in between was a blank page. Quite a thing with an 18 month-old in the backseat but it was one of the most incredible, rewarding and in many ways humbling experiences of my life. I think we will just have to keep planting those trees as carbon offset for a while yet! 🙂