Globally, we are consuming resources faster than the Earth can replenish them. If we think of these resources — such as timber, water, and clean air — like an allowance, then we spent our allotment for 2021 on July 30, and we’re expected to overshoot this year (2022) on July 28. We are over-fishing, extracting, mining, polluting, depleting, and harvesting resources across the globe.
We reach Earth Overshoot Day — the day when humanity’s consumption of the Earth’s resources exceeds what the planet can regenerate in that year — earlier and earlier each year. This means that we are consuming more resources than ever before — and at an increasing rate. For example, in 1980, Earth Overshoot Day occurred in November but by 2000, we had already overshot our resources by September.
“It’s a pyramid scheme,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and founder of Global Footprint Network. “It depends on using more and more from the future to pay for the present.”
Another daunting thought is that much of the world’s population consumes far fewer resources than people in developed countries. For example, one person in the United States will consume as many resources as 35 people in India. We would need 5 Earths to sustain us if the whole world lived like Americans. For comparison, we would need 3 Earths if we all lived like Germans, or 2.2 Earths if we all lived like Chinese. If the whole world lived like Indians, we would need 0.7 Earths to sustain us — in other words, we wouldn’t consume resources faster than our planet can replenish them.
Per capita carbon emissions in the U.S. are nearly double that of other wealthy nations, and roughly twice as many Americans are obese as our European counterparts. In other words, most Americans could live a very comfortable life but consume far fewer resources.
What can be done to reverse this trend? It will take a political and cultural shift. Thankfully, there are many actions that we can all take to move in the right direction.
Calculate Your Ecological Footprint
A great way to get started is to calculate your personal ecological footprint. This can help pinpoint areas for improvement. Some of the easiest ways to reduce your impact are to use renewable energy, reduce overall energy consumption, eat fewer animal products, buy less new stuff, live in a smaller home, drive less, and waste less food.
Celebrate Clean Energy Production Gains
U.S. power generation from renewables (that is, biomass, wind, geothermal, solar, and hydropower) surpassed coal in April 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Wind and hydropower comprise the lion’s share of renewable energy production, but solar energy production is increasing. Renewables now comprise 23% of U.S. power generation compared to 20% from coal. This trend is helpful for reducing carbon emissions and resource consumption.
Power production from coal has decreased from its peak a decade ago, and another 4.1 gigawatts of capacity is expected to be retired this year. Meanwhile, much of the growth in renewable energy is attributed to growth in wind and solar energy capacity. In 2018, 15 gigawatts of capacity came online. To put this big number in context, 1 gigawatt of power is equal to the energy production from 3.125 million photovoltaic (PV) panels or 412 utility-scale wind turbines. It is enough energy to power 110 million LED lights.
This happened for a variety of reasons. The price of renewable energy is decreasing and people and companies have been demanding cleaner power.
Determine Your Electricity Mix
There are many simple actions we can take to cut our personal ecological footprints that can make a big difference collectively.
A great place to start is by examining where your power comes from and finding greener sources of energy. The power mix varies largely by subregions of the country. Some areas use more wind and hydropower, while some areas still use a lot of coal — and this has a big impact on our ecological footprint. The Environmental Protection Agency provides this information by subregions.
If your area uses more fossil fuels for power generation, then you will generate more emissions when consuming electricity. Look into how to offset your dirty-energy emissions.
Switch to Clean Power
Many utility companies offer optional programs to source more renewable energy. This is a great way to support clean energy without installing solar panels. CleanChoice Energy has a website to find out more about programs offered in your area.
Consider Going Solar
Installing solar panels on your roof is a great way to go green. In many states, homeowners can save money by going solar rather than purchasing power from the local utility company. As utility rates increase, going solar becomes more lucrative. Installing a solar system can also increase your property value.
Visit the EnergySage website for free solar quotes from local solar energy contractors.
Join a Community Solar Project
Unfortunately, many homes aren’t ideal for solar panels. Renters, condo dwellers, low-income households, and people with shaded roofs might not be good candidates for solar. In some cases, community solar farms or solar gardens are a great option.
Solar gardens are solar energy plants that are owned by a community of people or a third party. These projects allow a group of people to use the solar power that is generated nearby without having solar panels on their property. In many cases, the energy from community solar farms costs less than what people otherwise pay the local utility company. It often works like a subscription where you pay more to the solar farm but have a lower electric bill.
The prevalence of community solar farms varies a lot by state because some states have policies that make it difficult to develop such projects.
Launch a Clean Energy Campaign
If your utility company generates a lot of power from fossil fuels, consider launching a campaign to get your utility to use more clean power. Change.org is a great platform to utilize to gain momentum behind this project. You can also urge your state politicians to create stringent renewable portfolio standards. These state-wide regulations vary greatly by state and require utilities to increase their use of renewable power sources. If you live in an area with a weak standard, consider launching a campaign for stronger standards.
When will Earth Overshoot Day occur next year? Ultimately, it depends on our collective actions. Let’s get started to reduce our impact in 2023.
Originally published on September 30, 2019, this article was updated in July 2022.