Earth Overshoot Day — WTF?!?

Today, 29th July 2019, is Earth Overshoot Day. It’s also the first time I’ve ever written a blog post.

So why now you might be wondering? Well aside from the fact that it’s EOD (more on that later), I think I’ve finally found the courage because as the mother of two young children in my early 40s, I realise that I’ve gone from caring a lot about what other people think, and caring relatively little about the planet; to now caring a LOT about the planet, and increasingly less about what others think! This new-found freedom, coupled with the undeniable climate emergency we face, makes me realise that we all have a role to play in talking about this. And I hope that through sharing my thoughts and learnings, and starting to find my voice, I can help you share and shape yours too.

Which takes me onto Earth Overshoot Day… a concept I hadn’t even heard of 4 years ago, and which blew my mind the minute I came across it. So what is it? Simply put, it’s the day in the year in which humanity has used up all the resources that the earth can replenish in a year. It’s calculated annually by the non-profit Global Footprint Network, using data primarily from the United Nations, and the resources it’s talking about include trees that have been cut down faster than nature can regrow; the depletion of our fish stocks in the oceans; and the production of CO2 emissions that far exceed the planet’s capacity to absorb it.

Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s when it was first measured, Earth Overshoot Day was the 31st December, which means that humanity broadly lived in equilibrium with the planet, hurrah! However fast forward to this year, and Earth Overshoot Day is the 29th July, 3 days earlier than last year’s 1st August. Without wanting to labour the point too much, (but I’m going to anyway), what this means is that every single thing, that every single one of us 7.5 billion people consumes from tomorrow onwards, is net net depletive to the planet. Now please just stop a minute, and let the enormity of that truly sink in…

Another way of cutting the data is to ask “How many planets would we need if everyone lived like a typical American?” And the answer is 5. But before any of us non-Americans gets too smug, check out the infographic below which shows how each country fares, and highlights that overall we’re consuming as if we have 1.75 planets…

Now I’m no rocket scientist, but it seems to me pretty clear that this status quo is in no way, shape, or form, sustainable. And it gets even worse as we look to the future. This is because we have another 2.2 billion people joining us by 2050, taking the global population to almost 10 billion - all of whom are going to want to consume, consume, consume.

So what can we do about this? Well given that our Government is in a mess trying to figure out Brexit; and that our media has been deafeningly silent; whilst our businesses are for the most part still obsessively focused on maximising shareholder returns to the detriment of everything else; it seems to me that we, the people, are going to have to step up here. That’s not to absolve Government, media and business of their responsibilities, but rather to say that whilst they’re trying to sort their s**t out, we can make some real progress ourselves. Unlike the tech billionaires who are busy building bunkers or financing missions to Mars, I believe that our best hope lies with the everyday person doing their bit.

How? By fundamentally reconsidering our relationship with consumption — the era defining concept of the 20th and 21st centuries. Did you know that the average US home has more than 300,000 things in it (and I’m sure we Brits aren’t that far behind)? And that for every tonne of waste generated at a household level another 50–70+ tonnes are generated upstream? What both of these stats point to is that our consumption at a household level is a MAJOR drain on the planet’s resources; and if we can change this, then we can #MoveTheDate for Earth Overshoot Day.

A lady called Bea Johnson wrote a wonderful book called Zero Waste Home, and in it she introduced the 5 Rs hierarchy. At the very top is ‘Refuse’ which recommends that we politely say ‘no’ to all the stuff that everybody wants to give us. Next is ‘Reduce’, which is about asking ourselves every time we buy something if we really need it. After that comes ‘Reuse’ which is about ensuring that we only create and buy things that can be re-used over, and over again. Next comes ‘Recycle’ — which is not without its challenges, but which we all surely need to do — and at the very bottom comes ‘Rot’.

In part 2 of this post I’ll talk about one of the simplest, and most effective ways that we as individuals can #MoveTheDate…

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Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.

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Tessa Clarke

Tessa Clarke

Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.

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