Early Earth Overshoot Day puts us in environmental debt

On Monday, July 29th, we will have used up our entire annual natural resource budget. It’s hardly the first time we’ve run out before the end of the year, but it is the earliest “Earth Overshoot Day” ever.
So, what exactly does that mean? Well, imagine you had a year’s income to live on, but instead of budgeting you spent it all in just seven months. Even worse, you can only get more money from a loan shark charging a predatory interest rate. And if you can’t pay it back in time, it puts you and your family in danger.
That’s what we’ve done with the world. The Global Footprint Network has spent decades tracking our use of natural resources to see at what point all our eating, drinking, transportation, energy use and shopping exceeds what the Earth can regenerate on its own. So that means things like harvesting more fish than can reproduce, logging more trees than we can regrow or emitting more carbon dioxide than the environment can absorb.
If we’ve used more resources than can be naturally replenished in a year, then we’ve “overshot” the Earth’s budget. In 1971, that happened on December 21. But as consumerism and industry have increased exponentially, the date has been moving earlier and earlier until finally landing, this year, on July 29.
This means it would take around a year-and-a-half to replenish what we use up in a year. This puts us further and further into debt while threatening our future. The cost of servicing this natural resource debt is climate change and widespread wildlife loss.
This coming Monday is the overshoot day for the entire world, calculated by averaging each country’s resource use. Some nation’s overshoot days have yet to come, while others happened months ago. Here in Canada, we’ve been running a natural resource deficit since March 18. (That’s only three days after the U.S., in case you were wondering.)
It sounds bad — and it is — but we can move that overshoot date to the end of the year where it belongs by reducing our personal footprints and by pressuring politicians to reduce our national footprint. The Global Footprint Network has a calculator to help us, as individuals, make changes in our own lives. But all levels of government and industry need to make sustainability more than a buzzword. Canada can return to living within our ecological means through policies that improve urban planning and rural agriculture, regulate industry, decarbonize our economy and truly “help nature thrive.”
The latter is no platitude, by the way, it’s a nature-based solution to Canada’s biggest ecological crises. WWF-Canada’s Wildlife Protection Assessment recently found five priority habitats across the country that, if properly protected, can provide a refuge for our most at-risk species while acting as carbon sinks to combat climate change.
Every effort helps, and every solution must be tried. We simply can’t afford to keep blowing our planet’s budget.