Earth’s resources for 2020 have been all consumed on last Saturday

In 2020, the Earth Overshoot Day lands three weeks later than in 2019, due to coronavirus-induced lockdowns. A globe with a mask left on the ground by children in Guangdong, China. (Credit: AlexPlavevski - Keystone)

Thanks to Covid-19 and the mandatory lockdowns all over the world, the Earth Overshoot Day 2020 falls on this day, August 22, three weeks later than in 2019. But this does not necessarily mean good news: global warming will not slow down without systemic changes in energy and food.

Why is Earth Overshoot Day important? It marks the day when humanity has used up all the biological resources that Earth can renew for an entire year. From 22 August until the end of the year, humanity is drawing in the stock of natural resources that Earth accumulated. A breakdown by countries shows huge differences. Switzerland’s was on 8 May, ranking 41st on the list. This means that if everybody on the planet lived like a Swiss, humanity would need the resources of three planets per year.

Methodology. Earth Overshoot Day is hosted by the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that has calculated the number of days the Earth’s biocapacity can still provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint every year since 1961. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Using UN statistics, their accounts incorporate the latest data and the most updated accounting methodology. Using the same edition of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts, they list countries with biocapacity reserve or deficit. Over the last decades, the date has been creeping up the calendar every year, although at a slowing rate. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 Earths per year.

Credit: Earth Overshoot Day and Global Footprint Network

“Limits to Growth”. Since 1972, the Club of Rome has repeatedly called for “Zero Growth”. Its report, The Limits to Growth, prepared by a team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), warned that the planetary system will collapse under the pressure of population and industrial growth. Our economies are running a deceitful Ponzi scheme with the natural resources of the Earth. The Ecological Footprint (the core of the Global Footprint Network) is a comprehensive sustainability metric based on robust data. It was created by Mathis Wackernagel in the early 1990s to embrace the limits of our planet and build a global economy that can work in the long term.

What can we do about it? To further this historic shift in the long-term growth of humanity’s Ecological Footprint — wood harvest decreased by 8.4% from 2019, and CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion decreased by 14.5% from 2019 — the Earth Overshoot Day offers many solutions with the #MoveTheDate campaign. To live in the means of the planet:

  • First, you can start by calculating your ecological footprint.

  • Second, you can use smart consumption guides such as Clever, Yuka or the WWF Guide among others and change your habits.

  • Third, you can learn about responsible consumption and production and the many inspiring ideas such as the Planetary boundaries, a concept developed in 2009 by the Stockholm Resilience Center, to identify the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system.

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Credit: Planetary Boundaries