Earth Overshoot Day: How to move the Ecological Debt Date
The term Earth Overshoot Day was first pronounced in 2003 by the non-profit organization Global Footprint Network and also known as Ecological Debt Day.
Call it however you wish, but you should know that Earth Overshoot Day is anything but a day to celebrate; it is more a day of shame!
Every year it is a date that gets earlier and earlier: this time (2023) it will fall on August 2nd!
Of course it was not always so: for example, in 1970 Overshoot Day fell on December 29th.
Let me explain it simplistically: let’s pretend that you are a child and your mother (Mother Earth) sets aside 365 cookies for you to eat during the year; after a few years, let’s say that one cookie a day is no longer enough for you; unfortunately, your mother cannot produce more; not because she is bad, mind you, she simply has only a certain amount of resources: she does not have unlimited flour, sugar, butter, etc. and her oven cannot bake more than one cookie a day. When you run out of all the cookies you were supposed to make for the whole year, (in this case on August 2nd) the remaining 151 days you will start stealing cookies from the heritage your ancestors have kept for your own future and that of the generations to come.
Let’s look at the reasons why a cookie a day is no longer enough for us; why things have gone downhill in just 50 years.
The Anthropocene and Earth Overshoot Day
Only coined in 2000, the term Anthropocene (era of humanity) is said by some to have started in the 19th century, with the industrial revolution.
Even though we are officially in the Holocene (the most recent geological epoch, which began around 11,700 years ago), human activities are capable of reshaping the earth’s ecology, altering its biological, physical and chemical properties, mainly through the emission of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
Although the Anthropocene is about 200 years old (still a nullity compared to the age of the earth), its deleterious effects have only become more evident in the last 50 years, generating what we conventionally call the ecological debt.
In recent decades, the anthropogenic impact has accelerated exponentially, due both to population growth (from around 4 billion in the 1970s to approx. 8 billion today) and to the over-exploitation of the earth’s bio-capacity. Up until the 1970s, the earth’s bio-capacity. was able to meet the needs of human beings; so much so that the day of the Earth Overshoot Day fell on December 29th (in 1970).
But when we started to confuse greed with modernity, in the name of unlimited development and growth, things started to fall apart: today, we need about 1.75 Earths to sustain our production rates!
Yes, you read that right: almost 2 Earths.
And so it is that the fateful day has moved from December 29th to August 2nd , in just 53 years of crazy rhythms.
But how is this date calculated?
How the ecological debt day is calculated
Determining the date of earth overshoot day is not an exact science; more like a realistic estimate of the ecological situation.
The formula used to calculate said estimate is as follows:
Here the Bio-capacity of the planet refers to the amount of renewable resources that the Earth can provide in the calculated year; and the Ecological Footprint of Humanity, on the other hand, refers to the amount of resources that humanity consumes in that year; finally multiplying the percentage thus obtained by 365, we arrive at the Earth Overshoot Day.
How our food choices influence Earth Overshoot Day
There is a significant correlation between our food choices and the determination of Earth’s overshoot day, given that the current food system, as well as other sectors, is based on hyperproduction and hyperconsumerism: the more we keep our foot on the accelerator, the sooner earth overshoot day will come.
By adopting food opulence as a way of life and commerce, in addition to harming our health, here is what we cause:
– we squeeze the planet’s resources;
– we pollute water and air;
– we generate a huge carbon footprint;
– we cause a threat to biodiversity;
– we provoke an alarming soil depletion.
If possible, there is something still more tragic: we do not even use everything we produce; so much so that we waste about one-third of what we produce!
What we can do to delay the arrival of Earth Overshoot Day
We are not yet without solutions, we are not yet at a point of no return; however, to delay the arrival of said date, we must all act and without wasting any more time.
To this end, there is an international movement, known by the hashtag #movethedate.
The most interesting aspect of the matter is that we do not have to make unspeakable renunciations; not even go back 50 years!
Technology on the one hand, the desire to be part of the solution on the other (by everyone making some kind of adjustment to their lives) would allow us to postpone the day of ecological debt: every year by 5.7 days!
This would bring us to the dreaded date of 2050 (when we will most likely exceed 10 billion people) with no more debt to the earth.
No, it is not by regulating births in poor countries that we can reverse course; we would only achieve this by decreasing our consumption, of virtually everything superfluous (we who live in so-called industrialized countries).
WE DO NOT NEED: new cars, even if they are electric; hit-and-run travels to distant lands (when we have not yet visited the relevant sites in our own city, or, at the limit, in our own country); home furnishings and wardrobes to be renewed every year, saying that change is good; the kind of gizmos and nonsense bric a bracs; not to mention buying useless items just because they are cheap, or because shopping makes us feel alive; “very cozy and hygienic” single use items; increasingly high-performance cell phones and televisions to alienate us even more from nature; the electric bikes or scooters – when a little healthy motion wouldn’t hurt anyone.
And last, but perhaps most important, our reckless food opulence. Leaving aside the silly extremes of social phenomena (such as gorging on 40 hamburgers one after the other for sheer exhibitionism), it must be said openly that we are all guilty to some extent: half of the bio-capacity. of the entire planet is currently used to produce food for only the aforementioned few; us, the privileged and spoiled inhabitants of affluent countries...
How to achieve food degrowth: by eating only bread and onion?
Food degrowth does not mean feeding ourselves with a fistful of rice; it means simply reducing what we normally eat, while equally (actually more) maintaining a healthy, varied diet rich in flavor, nutrients and goodness.
– Let’s reduce meat consumption: according to the Global Footprint Network, eliminating meat consumption one day a week would shift Earth Overshoot Day by 1.8 days.
If, on the other hand, we could be a little more “virtuous” by cutting meat production in half, we could set back the date as much as 17 days. An achievement that would be good not only for the planet but also for our health: intensively raised meat does not possess the quality, let alone any connection, with the vaunted traditional excellence: find out more about this topic here.
– Let’s stop wasting food: as I explained in the dedicated article, we waste food often because we don’t pay enough for it.
Instead of wheat, “flavored with glyphosate,” from Canada, (which costs 1 euro per kilo), let’s aim for quality and choose ancient grains or simply organic local wheat; it’s true, they cost at least twice as much, but for this very reason I am sure no one will want to waste a crumb of bread anymore.
Halving food waste globally would not only make us more civilized, it would also buy us a good 13 days.
– Let’s choose local food: especially us who live in the lucky part of the Earth, we have no need to import food.
We should give up eating strawberries (like many other imported fresh produces) for every 12 months, this is no good for our children’s future.
So, sourcing 80% of our food locally would shift the date by 1.6 days.
– Let’s prefer food from good agricultural practices: regenerative agricultural practices for example, consists of a set of measures including composting, crop rotation, crop coverage, organic production, use of ecological manure and reduced tillage; all of which together improve bio-capacity.
In addition, regenerative practices increase soil carbon sequestration, restore biodiversity and ultimately regenerate topsoil.
Thanks to regenerative agriculture, by 2050 the Earth Overshoot Day would arrive 2 days later.
– Let’s say no to industrial food: because it is addictive with its illusory cheapness (the real bill is paid by the earth); and its ‘artificially enhanced’ taste incentives overeating without control; this reduces the ability to appreciate genuine flavors of natural food. In practice, because of the invasive physical, chemical and biological processes used to make it palatable, industrial food intoxicates us, the planet and the future.
In addition to what has been listed so far, we could all do even more; in fact, if, in addition to regenerative and agro-ecological practices, we favored a plant-based diet, we could move the earth overshoot day 32 days further.
In conclusion, and in line with what I have been promoting for over 3 years through CHE Food Revolution, the concept is to take note of the enormous responsibility we are called upon to assume; for the good of ourselves, our future and that of generations to come; and we can do this by implementing the good habits I have just described and setting our lives on course:
Reduce what we buy, Reuse what we own and Recycle what we no longer (really) need.
My husband and I are proud ‘testimonials’ to this approach, adding another R, that of Rebound: an old boat with a sad history, but looking forward to becoming our future houseboat. To find out more about the 3R Project, I invite you to visit the dedicated page.
What do the Jamaicans have that we don’t?
It is a fair question, because if we could live like a Jamaican, the day of ecological debt would suddenly be pushed back to December 20th: a time jump of about 50 years.
So what do they have, or rather what don’t they have?
Certainly, they have an average population density (3 million inhabitants in an area of 11,000 square kilometers): but this parameter alone would not hold, since countries like Portugal (where I currently spend most of the year) would not have Earth Overshoot Day on May 7th, despite having a population density less than half that of Jamaica.
In fact, what makes this beautiful tropical island so special is, paradoxically, its very low GDP: again compared to Portugal, we are talking about a Gross Domestic Product of around $15 billion, compared to the Lusitanians’ $252 billion.
Yes, they are very poor; however, as the saying goes, they demonstrate in reality that “money does not bring happiness” (not necessarily); however, Jamaicans are not sad, far from it; a ranking, that of the perceived happiness of the population, based on various parameters, tells us so: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and corruption.
Well, according to this list, Jamaica is only a few rungs lower than Portugal (63rd versus 56th); and the proven proof that confirms the old proverb is the example of Hong Kong: with a GDP of around $1,700 billion, in happiness it ranks well below even Jamaica (80th place).
And what is even more tragic is that the ecological debt day for Hong Kong, this year came on March 25th.
Apparently the inhabitants of the Bel Paese are much happier than the Jamaicans (30th place), but at a steep price in terms of overshoot day: May 15th! As to say, ‘an unsustainable happiness’.
But if we then consider that Finland, somewhat grotesquely, ranks first in terms of happiness… well, it seems clear to me that the concept of ‘happiness’, i.e. a state of mind, cannot really be calculated with simple numbers, with all due respect to the ‘truly happy’ Finns.
In my opinion, there is another figure that would help to seriously understand happiness, perhaps more realistic and sadly concrete: the suicide rate.
We find that in Finland there are 14 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants, in Italy 6, in Jamaica… 2. So, who is the happiest country?
Returning to the main theme, the Earth Overshoot Day, we can even deduce a strong link with true happiness: the health of our habitat, directly linked to its inhabitants’ physical and mental health.
And another important fact also emerges: the world’s ecological terrestrial debt only happens, despite us, on August 2nd, thanks to countries like Jamaica (followed by Ecuador, Indonesia and Cuba).
So a greater effort should be made globally to find the right balance between (true) happiness and environmental impact: a challenge that I think is much easier, humanly speaking, than we may believe.
To stay on topics close to us, we all regret the good old days when simplicity filled our days; we all notice on social media the commotion in front of the nostalgic content of an era that seems, unfortunately, not to want to return. And this is no accident. Happiness truly lies in small things, based on simplicity, (real) social relationships and contact with nature.
In conclusion, yes it would be nice to adopt lifestyles that are compatible with the surrounding habitat, the world, and above all with ourselves; however, I am not here to support or decide which model is the best, nor to want to impose it a priori; because as I have been saying from the beginning, everyone could easily lead the life that he or she considers most congruous, provided that we revise our scale of values and consumption a little.
Never before have we needed a good revolution; personally, that’s all I want from life!