Rethinking Lifestyle

Earth Overshoot Day Falls on August 22

  • Eric Rempel, Blog Coordinator
  • Advocate, South Eastman Transition Initiative
Earth Overshoot Day

This year Earth Overshoot day falls on August 22. August 22 is the day some scientists have calculated that we, the inhabitants of the earth, will have consumed as much this year as the planet can produce in a whole year.

What does Earth Overshoot mean? Consider a monetary analogy.

Assume you have $1 million invested in such a way that it will yield $50,000 annually. You withdraw money from your account as you need it. As long as you are withdrawing less than $50,000 you are OK, but what if you withdraw more than that? You are in Overshoot. Obviously you will end up with less money in the bank. Then what? There are several possibilities.

You can adjust your spending so that in the next year, and the years that follow, so you replenish what you have overspent. Were you to do this, you would be managing your bank account and your lifestyle in a sustainable way.

You may be a senior, well aware that you won’t live forever. You are not concerned that your bank account is being drawn down because you are confident that you will end your dependence on it before it is depleted.

But you may be totally dependent on this bank account, and you do not adjust. Then what? It does not matter whether you exceed the $50,000 by a lot or a little, ultimately the bank account will dwindle seriously and you will be in trouble. Had you adjusted your lifestyle earlier, the necessary adjustment would not be dramatic, nor would it be painful. Unavoidably, at some point you will need to adjust, and the longer you postpone the adjustment, the more chaotic, and the more painful adjustment will be.

Returning to Earth Overshoot, we can quibble about the date. There is no hard way to calculate that exact date, but changing the date will not alter the fact that we are consuming more than what the earth can produce. If we are to avoid chaos when the bank account is drawn down, we need to adjust, and the sooner we adjust the easier it will be.

We are facing serious overshoot in many areas. We don’t know which one will affect us seriously first. It could be climate change, it could be the depletion of oil. It could be any one of many resources we are removing from the earth – phosphorous for food production, iron for construction, copper, aluminum, and the list goes on.

What’s the remedy? There is only one – consume less. Consumption is determined by how many people consume and how much each person consumes.

COVID-19 has helped us see that we in the rich nations can consume much less and still live meaningfully. In other words we know what we need to do to consume less. We just need to do it.

We also know what we need to do to deal with the population number, and it’s not draconian. A good number of European countries have had zero or negative population growth without immigration in recent years. The underlying reasons need to be studied more. We need to learn from their experience and celebrate their experience. We need to stop wringing our hands when population does not grow. We need to stop celebrating growth.