There’s five months left of the year 2021, yet we’ve already used up our annual ecological budget—the amount of timber, food, forests to suck up CO2 and other resources we demand of our planet that it can regenerate within a year. Our Earth can only sustainably provide so much, and each year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the date by which we’ve used up that amount. After Earth Overshoot day, we go into a sort of ecological debt.
Earth Overshoot Day, calculated annually by the research group Global Footprint Network, has consistently come earlier and earlier every year since its inception, a sign of how we’ve continued to stress the planet’s natural resources. In 2000, it was in late September—which still wasn’t great, considering a year of resources should last a full calendar year, or more. In 2021, it’s on July 29.
Last year, pandemic lockdowns that curbed human activity pushed Earth Overshoot Day back three weeks, compared to the year prior, to August 22. But that reprieve came from disaster, not by design, Global Footprint Network founder Mathis Wackernagel noted. With the world beginning to open up, it’s clear those gains were short lived. “We know it was just behavior changes, not systemic changes,” he says. “And as a result, consumption is back to [largely] where it was before. …The pandemic resource reductions have not been sustained.”