Earth overshoot day, another perspective

Maybe you saw a post about it on your social media timeline or you might have heard a friend talking about it: earth overshoot day. It’s the day we use up an entire year worth of resources. To be more specific, we used up the resources our planet can generate in a year. For the rest of the year we’re cutting into our future reserves.

I have seen this coming by for a couple of years now and the date is slowly moving earlier and earlier in the year. But it fails to really bring the message across in my opinion. Because we seem to assume that our planet magically resets at the end of the year and we can then start to use of the resources for that year. But that is not what happens of course. We keep on eating into our reserves of the future. Only using less than what our planet produces will replenish those resources.

It’s a bit like when you are living of your savings. As long as you only use up the interest, which is what your account generates, you’ll be fine. But if you start using up more you’ll eventually end up with nothing left.

So I did some calculations. I found the history of all recorded earth overshoot days, which started in 1970, and calculated the date where we would have used up all the resources we have used since. To do that I had to be a little creative with the numbers since the data lacks the amount of resources that have been used up by the end of the year. The explanation gets a bit technical and you can skip it and just have a look at the table below.

This is what I did:

  • For each year I calculated the number of days that were left at earth overshoot day.
  • I then ‘weighed’ those days according to the speed at which we were using resources. Meaning that, if we would use up the resources twice as fast as we should, then every remaining day would have a weight of 2. The formula I used was to multiply the remaining days by the number of days in the year divided by the number of days that had passed on earth overshoot day (weighted days = days left * total days in year / days passed at earth overshoot day). For simplicity I rounded that number to the nearest integer.
  • I then added those ‘weighted’ days to the date of the overshoot day in order to calculate how many days worth of resources we used by the end of the year. This gives us a new date, which is the date in the future from where we are ‘borrowing’ the resources. I did this for each year separately.
  • And I did this cumulatively in order to see from where in the future we are currently ‘borrowing’ our resources.

The result is pretty frightening. If we continue to use resources at the same pace as we did before this year’s earth overshoot day, we’ll start using the resources of March 8, 2036 by the end of the year. That’s over 18 years worth of resources that has already been used up before they have been produced. We are deep in the red on our resource balance of our planet!

In the table below the ‘overshoot day at the end of year’ indicates the safe date to use up the resources that have been used by december 31st of that year. The ‘cumulative overshoot day’ is the safe date for using the resources we have used at the end of the indicated year (first column) since 1970. It is not a pretty picture!


Also published on Medium.

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