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A lot of traffic in New York: Researchers determine the day on which all of the year's resources are used up

Photo: Michael Nagle / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Humanity uses more ecological resources than are actually available per year, so that there is no imbalance. According to calculations, the earth's population will therefore live beyond its means from Wednesday: According to the calculations of the American environmental organization Global Footprint Network, August 2 is this year's Earth Overshoot Day. If everyone lived as elaborately as the people in Germany, the day would have been on May 4th.

Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was July 28. It looks like people used fewer resources in 2023 than in 2022. But appearances are deceptive, according to Amanda Diep, spokeswoman for the Global Footprint Network. Rather, all data would be updated every year with the latest data collections and methods in order to be able to draw comparisons. According to this, Earth Overshoot Day 2022 was not on July 28, but rather on August 1.

"The trend is flat," Diep said, and has been for about ten years. In 2023, only one day was won. "It's hard to say how much of this is due to a decline in economic activity (because of Corona) or decarbonization efforts." Decarbonization means switching from fossil fuels to carbon-free and renewable energy sources.

Most of it is attributable to greenhouse gas emissions

On the one hand, the organization calculates what nature can produce and absorb without losses in the year. Among other things, this involves raw materials, drinking water and food and man-made waste and CO2 emissions. It contrasts this with what people consume with their way of life and economy. Thus, it determines the day on which all resources of the year are consumed. A large part is attributable to greenhouse gas emissions.

In order to live in balance with nature and reduce greenhouse gases as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Earth Overshoot Day would have to be postponed by 19 days every year for the next seven years, Diep said. According to Diep, if it were possible to halve food waste worldwide, 13 days would already be gained.

"For more than 50 years, the earth's natural resources have been continuously overexploited every year," said Christoph Bals, political director of the environmental and development organization Germanwatch. Depending on the route, rail travel can be up to 28 times more climate-friendly than flying, said Jacob Rohm, a consultant for climate-friendly mobility at Germanwatch. "Abolishing the unfair tax exemptions for aviation would already flush four billion euros a year into the federal budget. This could massively expand the rail network and services in Europe."

A study by Ohio State University shows that only six percent of 178 countries are environmentally sustainable by providing their citizens with adequate food, energy and water without exceeding natural capacities. The researchers looked at water consumption and CO2 absorption, for example in forests. The study found that many countries emit much more carbon than their ecosystems can handle. Nevertheless, the researchers see potential to combat environmental risks through renewable energies, plant-based diets and a sustainable circular economy.