As of next week, we'll have officially used up the Earth's resource budget for 2017. This means that August 2 is officially this year's Earth Overshoot Day (EOD).
So what does it mean to use up the planet's resource budget? It means that by the EOD, humanity will have used up our entire allowance of water, soil, clean air, and other resources. The “allowance” is based on the amount of these resources that nature can renew on its own. Once we exceed the allowance, it also means that we've used more resources than nature can renew or produce for the year.
Think of it this way: in just the first seven months of the year, we had already done quite the damage on the planet. In seven months, we've taken more from nature than it can produce in a year.
If so, then what?
Earth Overshoot Day has been coming earlier and earlier as time passes. The latest EOD occurred in 1971, when it fell on December 21—pretty late in the year. This year's EOD is the earliest so far since EOD was first conceptualized in 1986. Last year, the day fell on August 3. In 2014 and 2015, the day fell on August 4. In 2013, it was August 5, and August 6 in 2012. Before that, EOD would come later then earlier then later again. Sometimes, the differences between each year's EOD would be about a couple of weeks or so.
While Earth Overshoot Day looks at worldwide consumption, some countries actually reach their overshoot day earlier than the rest of the world. China and the United States, for example, reach their overshoot day the earliest. Most South American countries, however, even have surplus resources by the end of the year.
Thus, calculations take the entirety of humanity into account, not just individual countries. Global Food Network, along with WWF, are the organizations that do the calculations and come up with when each year's EOD will be. They take humanity's resource demands into account, as well as the space needed to provide these resources, and how much space is left. When our consumption overtakes the planet's ability to provide these resources, that's when EOD is.
In a perfect world, EOD would fall after December 31 of every year. However, this is far from a perfect world. The good news is that though EOD has been coming sooner and sooner, the advance has slowed down. The jumps between the previous year's EOD to the present year's used to be as big as weeks. Recently, it's been just a day.
While it's true that countries should look to their EOD and take steps to prevent it from arriving too soon, individuals can also do their part. For example, we can do smaller things like eating less meat, generating less food waste, and burning less fuel. These small adjustments to our lifestyles can contribute to pushing Earth Overshoot Day further and further back. Who knows? Maybe someday EOD might fall past the last day of the year.
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