Earth Overshoot Day highlights humanity’s wastefulness


As the years progress, Earth Overshoot Day continues to fall earlier in the year.

Laura Nowicki, Managing Editor

In the world we live in, issues lurk around every corner. Conflicting priorities, beliefs, and morals divide people, while the world itself is cast aside, left to deteriorate as sustainability is ignored. Earth Overshoot Day determines the day in which human consumption exceeds what earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. In a perfect world, Earth Overshoot Day would fall on December 31st, meaning that human resource consumption is completely sustainable. This year, it fell on August 22nd.

Rarely observed, Earth Overshoot Day is incredibly obscure for most Americans, despite its importance. Overshoot Day’s blunt reminder of humanity’s failure to live sustainably remains in the shadows of more positive days, such as Earth Day and Arbor Day, which still aren’t widely celebrated. Humanity’s tendency to ignore such important causes exemplifies the popular desire to remain in the bliss of ignorance rather than confronting the truth.

Those who are informed of Overshoot Day, such as Milford environmental science teacher Stephanie Crow, were not startled by how early in the year the day is in 2020. “I’m not surprised at all; humans are very wasteful and demanding of the planet,” she explained. Milford Senior Sydney Chura agreed; “This year’s date doesn’t surprise me, but it does worry me because almost every year the date comes earlier.”

Those who were unaware of Overshoot Day, such as Milford Senior Tess Wyniemko, were instantly alarmed by when Overshoot Day took place this year. Wyniemko explained, “Though the day doesn’t surprise me because of the lack of effort that leaders and citizens put into keeping our planet safe, it definitely worries me about the future of our planet, seeing how early it came this year.”

Overshoot Day last year, however,  fell even earlier in the year, on July 29. The improved 2020 Overshoot Day is presumably due to extensive lockdown measures that have been taking place throughout the country this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The massive increase in stay-at-home workers, online schooling, and lack of traveling help to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint and preserve the Earth’s resources this year. Crow hopes that the improved date is also because of people being better due to education and knowledge of the planet’s needs.

To calculate where Overshoot Day lies every year, the Global Footprint Network divides the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth generates that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year). This value is then multiplied by 365, the number of days in a year. In order to account for gaps in data caused by coronavirus, the network analyzed changes in factors that impact global biocapacity, such as carbon emissions, forest harvest, and food demand, in order to calculate the 2020 Overshoot Day. has identified five key areas that are most forcefully impacting the long-term trend of early overshoot days: planet, cities, energy, food, and population.

The planet containing fertile soil as well as clean air and water are necessary to support the continued thriving of species on earth. Park depletion, deforestation, and unsustainable farming practices threaten Earth’s ecosystems. By reforesting 350 million hectares of depleted forest land, Overshoot Day could be moved back by eight days.

Roughly 80% of humans are expected to live in a big city by 2050, which threatens major pre-existing challenges for the environment. City expansion increases reliance on automobiles for transportation and depletes natural habitats while preventing biodiversity. If humans reduced their carbon footprint from driving by fifty percent and assume that one-third of car miles are replaced by public transportation and the rest by biking and walking, Overshoot Day could be moved back by thirteen days.

Greenhouse gases used in energy production emit harmful levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which leads to a gradual increase in global temperatures. Reducing humanity’s carbon footprint by fifty percent would move Overshoot Day back by ninety-three days, which is equivalent to over three months.

Resource-intensive food production, such as animal products, release large amounts of fossil fuels like methane into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Additionally, about one-third of food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted; most food waste ends up in landfills, which also releases large amounts of methane. If global meat consumption was reduced by fifty percent, Overshoot Day would move back seventeen days. If food waste was cut in half, it would move back by an additional thirteen days.

As the human population continues to increase, so does the pressure on the planet. The United Nations projects that the human population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050, which worries scientists that believe that Earth’s maximum human capacity is ten billion. If every other family had one less child and motherhood was postponed by two years, Overshoot Day would move back 49 days by 2050.

Though these are all comprehensive measures to combat climate change and resource destruction, simple environmentally conscious changes to one’s life could also lead the Earth in a more positive direction. “To do my part, I reduce my plastic waste as much as I can,” Wyneimko began. “This includes using reusable straws, not buying plastic water bottles, and buying low-waste alternatives, like shampoo bars.” Chura also does her part to protect the environment; “Personally, I have limited meat and dairy products in my diet drastically over the past few years, I take cold showers which saves energy and water, and I only wash clothes when I have sweated in them or they have any spots.” Other simple changes, such as encouraging composting, carpooling, and recycling, can prevent the earth’s downfall.

Unless humans come together and hold themselves responsible for caring for the planet that they call home, Earth Overshoot Day will only come earlier in years to come. Though the current status of the planet may appear grim, there is still time to create a better future for the world we live in. “We can only hope that Overshoot Day continues to appear later every year,” said Crow. “Any time an environmental topic is discussed, it gives me hope.”