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Earth Overshoot Day Came Early: What That Means for the Planet

Earth Overshoot Day came on July 29 this year. Here's what that means for the planet and us, and the factors that influence our consumption.

Written by
Briana Dodson

Earth Overshoot Day, which was started by the Global Footprint Network in 2006, marks the date when humanity has used up all biological resources that the Earth regenerates in a year. The rest of the year is referred to as “overshoot,” which you can think of as an ecological IOU.

This year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29th, which means humans currently use 74% more resources than what the planet can regenerate. In this episode of Good Together, Brightly's co-founder and CEO, Laura Wittig, spoke with Sarah Baillie, the population and sustainability organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity, about how our everyday consumption plays a role and what we can do to ensure our resources are sustained.

To put this year's Overshoot Day into perspective, Baillie says that "if everyone on the planet lived like people in the United States, Earth Overshoot Day would have been on March 14th this year." Fortunately, all countries don't consume quite as much as we do in the United States.

This can be a difficult pill to swallow, but the work Baillie and the Center for Biological Diversity have done is part of a larger effort to educate people about how the human population impacts wildlife and the environment. This will allow us to better understand our current consumption and shape the way we think about conserving our resources for years to come.

3 Factors that Influence Our Consumption

1. Family Planning

Many developing countries point to population growth as one of the largest contributors to climate change.

While policymakers talk a lot about energy-related solutions, climate change experts point to family planning as a smart investment that has the potential to provide environmental and societal benefits. "If every other family had one less child and people delayed having kids by two years, by 2050, we could move Overshoot Day by 49 days," says Baillie.

But this doesn't mean not having children at all. It just emphasizes the importance of talking about these things more often and planning accordingly.

"Everyone kind of has different ideas of what they picture their family to be like. It's very personal. But regardless of how you feel about the topic, it's very interesting to think about your impact, as well as the impact of those you choose to bring into this world," Wittig says. "We're not saying no one needs to have children, ever. But we are saying it's helpful to be mindful when we think about the finite number of resources that we have."

2. Plant-Based Diets

While there are numerous things the government and big corporations can be doing to ensure the health and prosperity of our planet, it's also important to remember that we also hold a lot of power to make changes on our own. One of these changes is being more intentional with how we eat.

According to the Global Footprint Network, if we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and replaced those calories with a plant-based diet, we would move Overshoot Day 17 days.

"It's not even that we're asking people necessarily to go 100% plant-based in every single meal that they have, but it's just about making really quick, simple swaps," says Wittig. Today, many fast-food restaurants are making those swaps easier to come by, and even innovations like lab-grown meat are on the rise.

Look at it as a fun way to try out some new recipes. Baillie says you could even reach out and encourage bigger chain restaurants to add more plant-based options to their menus so eating plant-based would be more accessible.

3. Access to Resources

While you might be in a situation where you have access to more resources and can make more informed decisions, that doesn't mean everyone is. "Even if you don't want to change your family size, you can advocate for improved access to healthcare so everyone has the ability to plan the family size they want," says Baillie.

According to Wittig, "at the end of the day, the Earth needs us to come together from a point of positivity." And now that we're able to see what impacts our actions have on the planet we love so much, we have the power to do something about it.