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Australia ‘wins’ Earth Overshoot Day, making us the most wasteful country in the world

I like silly holidays as much as the next guy.

For example, every September 19, I pick up the phone and am met with a delightful “Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”.

It’s my brother, calling to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

This year, I learned about a new silly holiday that isn’t so silly: Earth Overshoot Day. And even though it sounds kind of fun (do we get to play Halo all day?) it’s actually pretty damn depressing.

Earth Overshoot Day has been declared annually since 2006 by the Global Footprint Network (GPN), a nonprofit group that focuses on the issue of sustainability.

I’m not a maths guy, but the way that the GPN calculate Earth Overshoot Day is so simple, even I get it.

First, the GPN takes the planet’s biocapacity (a fancy word for natural resources), then divides it by humanity’s ecological footprint and multiplies it by days in the year. The result is the day of the year that we have used up our yearly supply of the planet’s resources.

Earth Overshoot Day was formerly known as Ecological Debt Day, and first occurred on December 19, 1987. It was calculated again in 1990, 1995 and 2005, before changing its name and becoming an annual ‘celebration’.

I guess I don’t need to tell you which way the days have gone since 1987. Since then, we have shown no improvement at all, using up our resources faster each year. This year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 8.

The GPN also calculates this day for each country to give us a clearer picture of global consumption patterns. To my surprise, Australia beat even the USA, to take the dubious honor of being the most resource-intensive country on the list.

How many planets chart

According to the official website, if the whole world used up resources in the same manner as Australia, then we would need 5.4 Earths a year to survive. In contrast, utilising resources in the same way as India would require just 0.7 of an Earth. By the end of this year, the world will have used 1.6 Earth’s worth of natural resources.

So what can we do? The official website for Earth Overshoot Day has some suggestions. At the level of government, countries can offset their carbon emissions by switching to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

On a personal level, the GPN encourages people to do the usual things: eat vegetarian meals, reduce energy consumption and recycle.

So this ‘silly’ day isn’t fun, but it is important. I hope that systemic changes, personal choices and plans like the 2015 Paris Agreement can shift Earth Overshoot Day back to where it belongs – New Year’s Eve.

If we don’t do something about it, we’ll all be saying the same thing:

“Aarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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