Flying past another Earth Overshoot Day

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Earth Overshoot Day came and went again this year. No fanfare, no celebration, no parades. Just as silently as extinction, it came and went. Most people didn’t notice; many didn’t care.

Noting and celebrating the day itself is not important. What is important is understanding what it means and working to counter it.

By Earth Overshoot Day, humanity has used an entire year’s budget of resources and waste absorbing ability and has dipped into future reserves. For most of human history, people lived within the Earth’s budget. In 1961, we used about three-quarters of the earth’s capacity to both produce and absorb, leaving enough to serve future years. By the 1970s, population and economic growth had grown to the point at which resources were used at a rate that exceeded the Earth’s productive capacity and waste products were produced at a rate that exceeded Earth’s capacity to process and absorb them. We moved into Earth Overshoot.

Since then, Earth Overshoot Day has occurred earlier each year. In 2000, it was on October 1; this year, it was on August 13. Humanity now uses the equivalent of 1.5 Earths.

We are gradually depleting resources that would have been used in the future. It has been made possible by using fossil fuels produced by the sun’s energy millions of years ago in a relatively short period of time. It has also been made possible by using more assets such as forests and fertile soil than are regenerated. Results are now seen in many forms, including the oceans’ diminished productivity and more carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere than it can absorb. July, 2015, was the hottest month on record.

Serious changes in behavior by individuals, governments, businesses and industry around the globe will be necessary. While high income countries such as the U.S. can temporarily shield themselves from immediate impacts, economic and ecological stress can be avoided by reducing their Ecological Footprint, or demand on the planet. Low income countries, while contributing less to the planet’s Ecological Footprint, generally feel more effects of overuse.

Ecological Footprint is the concept on which Earth Overshoot is based. The Global Footprint Network is an organization which works toward making ecological considerations central to economic planning. These considerations are basic to energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable living.

As we wrote last year: Earth Overshoot is one of the reasons Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) established the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. Using energy efficiency practices and renewable energy rather than fossil fuel is one way we can start to rebalance our system. Leading sustainable lifestyles gets us still closer, encompassing all that we do in our daily lives including the use of clean energy.

Among the many topics which addressed sustainability at this year’s Fair were energy independence; efficiency in new and remodeled homes; cars and batteries of the future; raising your own food and simple, inexpensive food preparation.

Individuals can learn how to calculate their own personal footprint by visiting footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/.

Major sponsors of the Fair were the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times and the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department.

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