Green Tau: issue 69

Earth Overshoot Day

13th May 2023

If I had a capital sum of £10,000 that provided me with an income of £1000 a year and provided my annual expenditure did not exceed £1000, I would be set up for life. 

If however I spent £1500 a year, whilst I would not have a problem in the short term, I would in the long term. For to have £1500 to spend I would have to use £500 from my capital which would be fine in the first year. In the second year however my income would be only £950 because the capital driving it had been reduced. I would either have to curtail my living expenses or if I was less wise, extract more from the capital. If in year 2 my expenditure was still £1500, then in the following year my income would be further reduced £895. To maintain my expenditure at £1500 I would have to extract £650 from my  capital sum, reducing it still further to £8905. In less than 20 years I would be bankrupt. 

We are in the same situation here on earth. The earth represents our capital sum. Each year the earth produces resources (crops, minerals, clean air and water plus the ability to absorb unwanted pollutants) which is our income. If we live within our income then our lifestyles are sustainable. If we live beyond our means, drawing down capital as well as income, then we are heading towards bankruptcy. 

Since the 1970s scientists at the Global Footprint Network  have been calculating how much of the earth’s resources we are using. For millennia our human consumption of resources to feed and clothe ourselves, to build homes and cities, to travel and pursue leisure habits, has been well within the capacity of the earth’s resources. However since the early 1970s this has ceased to be so. We have so increased our consumption that we are eating into the earth’s capital reserves. As of 2022, we would require 1.75 worlds to satisfy our global needs. We don’t have any spare worlds, so we are, year on year, sinking further into the red.

Each year the Global Footprint Network calculates the day on which we will have consumed our full quota of available resources. This is known as Earth Overshoot Day. In 1971 Earth Overshoot Day was 25th December. In 2022 it was 28th July. The only year when the date when into reverse was in 2020 during the Covid pandemic when Earth Overshoot Day was 22nd August – which at least shows we can make a positive impact if we choose.

As well as calculating Earth Overshoot Day for the whole world, the Global Footprint Network makes similar calculations of each country. Some countries don’t even consume their full quota, but of those that do, their individual Earth Overshoot Days vary from 21st December for Mali, 11th November for Egypt, 31st August for Mexico, 2nd June for China, 13th March for the USA, 10th February for Qatar. 

And the UK? Our Earth Overshoot Day falls next week, on 19th May.

Globally and as individual countries we need to be adjusting our lifestyles to ensure that they are sustainable and at the same time, restoring the depleted parts of the planet – restoring the fertility of soils, improving biodiversity, increasing tree cover on land and kelp forests under the sea, cleaning up waterways and seas, and reducing green house gas emissions.

This will need system change across the world, but it is also something we can effect as individuals. To explore how you might reduce your environmental footprint try the Global Footprint Network’s calculator. By playing around with the answers you give, you may find ways in which you could comfortably make positive changes to your lifestyle.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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