What are some natural resources in Denmark

As of today, we're already using up next year's resources: what you need to know about Earth Overshoot Day

On July 29th, the world's population used up what nature has made available to them for the year according to the calculations of a non-profit organization - earlier than ever before. But what is actually taken into account? And how do the different countries differ? The most important answers.

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

That is the day of the year when mankind has used more natural resources than the earth's ecosystems can regenerate in a year. According to calculations, it was added for the first time in 1971, on December 21st. Since then, World Exhaustion Day has moved forward five months. He never came as early as this year, namely on July 29th:

Behind Earth Overshoot Day is the Global Footprint Network: a non-profit organization that annually measures the demand of the global population as well as natural resources and ecological services. From this, it calculates the global ecological footprint and national values. The British economist Andrew Simms was the initiator of Earth Overshoot Day.

Which countries are among the (surprising) negative front runners?

Data for the country-specific Overshoot Days are only available until 2016: Qatar was the first country to reach its exhaustion day on February 11, followed by the United Arab Emirates as another oil country on March 8. Both emit a lot of CO2, not least because they import most of their food.

The USA and Canada are consuming resources at a rapid pace, only Mexico had its Overshoot Day in its second semester. And in the case of European countries, there are only two where the day of exhaustion came after July: Albania, in October, and Moldova in December. The opposite is true for African countries - examples of countries that used up their resources before the end of the first half of the year are the islands of La Réunion and Mauritius.

The Earth Overshoot Day thus largely reflects the country's gross domestic product: countries with an average low standard of living consume less. On the other hand, wealthy countries can afford to pay attention to an ecological standard when buying goods, but they consume much more.

At first glance, Luxembourg might be surprising, as it reached its overshoot day just five days behind Qatar. This is also where the big CO falls2-Footprint in weight. According to the Eurostat statistics institute, Luxembourg also has the lowest share of renewable energies in Europe.

Even more unexpectedly, the supposed bicycle country Denmark is likely to appear in the unflattering top ten: It used up its resources within three months. Denmark not only has one of the highest car densities in Europe, but also consumes the most energy per capita. The country has a big CO2-Footprint, according to Eurostat, it also generates the most waste in all of Europe, namely 781 kilograms per person per year in 2017. In addition, the Danes have the highest demand for arable land. WWF also blames Denmark's excessive fishing for the poor performance.

Which countries are doing comparatively well?

Some countries don't have an overshoot day - because they don't "overshoot" within a year. Most of these countries are on the African continent - almost all of them south of the Sahara, with the exception of Gabon, Djibouti, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa.

On the American continents only Honduras, Jamaica and Haiti remain without Overshoot Day. In Asia it is Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, North Korea and the Philippines. Not surprisingly, poorer, low-consumption countries are the least likely to use global resources.

And what about in Switzerland?

If the population around the world lived like the Swiss, the resources would have been used up by May 7, 2019. In other words: we use up our resources within four months. In order to cover the consumption of Switzerland, three planets would be needed.

The national exhaustion day has been postponed a few days since 2010. This is because the consumption-related CO2Has reduced emissions, as has the pressure on biodiversity due to consumption-related land use in Switzerland. This is shown by a study by the Federal Office for the Environment (Bafu).

However, like most industrialized countries, Switzerland continues to be one of the major polluters. Three quarters of our environmental impact occurs abroad, most of it due to the production of food. But living, traffic and the immense generation of waste also play a role, according to Bafu.

How is Earth Overshoot Day calculated?

The Earth Overshoot Day is organized with the help of the ecological footprint as well as with the so-called Biocapacity calculated.

The ecological footprint shows which natural resources the population of a region, a country or the world uses to meet their needs: These include plant foods, plant fibers, animal husbandry and fish products, wood and space for urban infrastructure. With this, people consume productive surfaces: arable land, pasture land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest and land that is polluted by carbon dioxide emissions or uptake.

On the other hand, a region, a country or the world has a certain Biocapacity: a surface of biologically productive land or water that can regenerate within a certain period of time. Both consumption and surface area are measured in global hectares (gha): For each hectare, an annual bioproductivity is assumed that corresponds to the world average. This makes one hectare of pasture land (low productivity) comparable to one hectare of arable land (high productivity).

A comparison of the Footprint with the Biocapacity shows when the ecological reserves have been used up.

Around 12.2 billion gha of biocapacity are available worldwide. The average per capita consumption is 3.3 gha. With around 7.1 billion people in the world, resources will be used up on July 29th.

For Switzerland it looks something like this (figures from 2016):

Per capita

  • the ecological footprint of Switzerland 4.64 gha;
  • the global biocapacity 1.63 gha.

How long it takes until the day of exhaustion in Switzerland is then calculated as follows:

(1.63 gha biocapacity of the earth / 4.64 gha Swiss consumption) × 365 = 128 days that pass before Switzerland has exhausted its annual resources. And the 128th day of the year is May 9th.

So you divide the earth's biocapacity by what a particular country needs - its ecological footprint - and multiply this by the number of days in the year. If the biocapacity is the same as the resources that are consumed, they will last until the end of the year.

What is the difference between Overshoot Day and the ecological footprint?

The difference between the per capita footprint, overshoot day and biocapacity of a country - and one of the weaknesses of the concept - is illustrated by the example of Bolivia: The per capita footprint in Bolivia is 3.2 global hectares. If the entire world population lived like the people of Bolivia, one year's resources would be depleted on July 6th. But Bolivia itself has so much biocapacity per person that it still has a large "reserve" of biocapacity - even if, like everywhere else in the world, this has been falling steadily for years. If you were to calculate the Overshoot Day in Bolivia based only on the resources available in your own country, the country would be in a much better position.

The same applies to numerous other South American countries. The front runner is Surinam: The per capita footprint of the roughly half a million inhabitants is about as high as in Ukraine or Romania. But since 80 percent of the country's area is covered by rainforest - and forest in the calculation as CO2- is rated as absorbing - the country, which is almost half the size of Germany, has huge amounts of resources.

This discrepancy is one of the criticisms that have been made of the concept of the ecological footprint.

What is not taken into account in the calculation?

The specialists from the non-profit organization explicitly point out that the footprint on which the calculation of the World Exhaustion Day is based includes all natural uses by humans, but by no means all environmental problems: air pollution, for example, is primarily a problem for them human health, less for the earth's ability to regenerate. Even plastic waste in the ocean is only a problem in this model if it affects the resources used by humans that live in it.

So it is first and foremost a model that is strongly oriented towards humans, which does not accord nature any intrinsic value or at least does not include it: It is primarily about humans and their needs, not about whether landscape, animals and plants are about themselves sake should get.

The German site of the Global Footprint Network explicitly states: "If an animal or plant species becomes extinct, the ecological footprint does not actually change." Nevertheless, a smaller ecological footprint makes a decisive contribution to nature conservation: the footprint describes the land use, and less land use promotes the preservation of biodiversity.

What does Earth Overshoot Day actually say?

The Global Footprint Network is repeatedly criticized for its methodology for calculating Earth Overshoot Day. In 2013, six scientists criticized in a study that the ecological footprint - on the basis of which the Overshoot Day is calculated - primarily weights the CO2Emissions, but hide other important influences. The online portal "The Conversation" operated by scientists therefore described the calculation of Earth Overshoot Day as "misleading". It threatens to "seriously underestimate" the ecological footprint of mankind.

Earth Overshoot Day is likely to remain a vivid and popular indication that almost all countries, especially industrialized countries, continue to consume far too much - and that global developments are still moving in the wrong direction.