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The impacts of climate change are becoming more and more visible. From fires raging in California, and here in Australia, to cracked paddocks waiting for the rain and once-vibrant corals turned ash white by rising water temperatures. Even though we are now seeing (and living with) the effects of climate change, the overall impact humans are having on the earth, or our ‘Ecological Footprint’, remains largely invisible.
The abstract, overwhelming and unreal nature of the ecological crisis puts us all at risk of switching off when radical and urgent action is needed most.
So how do we make our climate impacts more visible? We’ve heard the facts and figures — global carbon emissions, deforestation rates, food waste statistics — but what do they actually mean?
Enter: Earth Overshoot Day (EOD), an annual event that helps quantify our ecological footprint so that we can connect with (and act on) the impacts of our current ways of living. Put simply, EOD is the date when humans have used up all the resources that the earth is able to regenerate within any given year. After this date, we move beyond the safe operating space of natural systems that sustain human life on our planet.
EOD is determined by comparing humanity's Ecological Footprint with Earth’s biocapacity. According to the 2020 EOD report:
"Both biocapacity and Ecological Footprint can be tracked and compared against each other, based on two simple principles: (1) all the competing demands on productive surfaces, i.e., the surfaces that contain the planet’s biocapacity, can be added up (2) by scaling these areas proportional to their biological productivity, they become commensurable. The measurement unit used is "global hectare" which is a biologically productive hectare with world-average productivity."
In economic terms, Ecological Footprint and biocapacity can be understood as the demand on and supply of nature respectively.
"On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures the ecological assets that a given population requires to produce the natural resources it consumes (including plant-based food and fibre products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure) and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions," the Global Footprint Network explains.
Ecological footprint is measured though the use of six land categories: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon demand on land.
"On the supply side, a city, state or nation's biocapacity represents the productivity of its ecological assets (including cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, and built-up land). These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also absorb much of the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions," according to the Global Footprint Network.
To extend this economic metaphor, EOD marks the date when humans have used up the planetary budget. By marking this date in our calendars, EOD makes our climate impacts feel real and acts as a call to action for individuals, businesses and governments.
This year, the global impacts of COVID-19 pushed EOD back to August 22. What this means is that by August 22 this year, we had used up the resources Earth was able to produce. For every day following this, we have been consuming more than what the Earth can regenerate this year. In even scarier news, a country-by-country breakdown shows that Australia’s EOD actually occurred five months before the global EOD, on March 30, 2020.
The Global Footprint Network, the non-profit behind EOD, is urging people all around the globe to use this crisis as an opportunity to #movethedate by coming together to improve our systems.
At Planet Ark, we are doing just that. This month we will be launching the Australian Circular Economy Hub — a platform where the brightest minds in the country can collaborate on creative solutions to our economic, social and ecological challenges. Through this project we will help fast-track Australia’s transition to a circular economy so that, hopefully, in time, EOD becomes a thing of the past.