Carbon Industry Reports

How we can pull back on earth overshoot

The 1st August was 2018’s Earth Overshoot Day, the date when human consumption of natural resources became greater than the planet can renew in a year. Earth overshoot day in 2007 was 13th August; the same year that the BBC broadcast “Britain Under Threat” which predicted UK summers to have temperatures of +30C. So since 2007 we have marched on and increased the overshoot date by 12 days and the predictions of increasing effects from Climate Change are now apparent in the UK with hotter summers.

Cause and effect

Our consumption of natural resources include materials which produce greenhouse gasses e.g. coal and oil for energy. Energy, a key resource to maintain our current lifestyles, accounts for over three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. So the equation is simple and ever escalating. The more non-renewable energy we consume the more we contribute to greenhouse gasses and overshoot the natural restorative powers of the planet. The more we pollute the atmosphere the faster the planet will heat up causing temperatures to rise and humans to seek relief by using energy to keep cool.

Efficiency is a deficiency

Relying on energy efficiency and renewable technologies alone will not be sufficient to turn back the dates and balance our books.  According to Schneider Electric, one of the world’s leading electrical innovators, applying energy efficiency and renewable technologies by retrofitting buildings and infrastructure could move Earth Overshot Day back by 21 days. This, of course, would still leave us consuming at a rate that far exceeds the planet’s ability to renew itself, by four months or 33%. Efficiency is a positive step forward but insufficient on its own.

Resource conservation required

Humans waste considerable quantities of raw materials by leaving equipment running when not required and consuming at an unnecessarily high level. To cut consumption we could first start with avoiding waste and secondly by applying adaptive measures that mean we choose to use less. This is important because as temperatures rise we will need to be more skilful at using natural ventilation to save energy and changing lifestyles. We will need an advanced warning on what measures to take to maximise the benefits of natural ventilation and we will require advisory feedback so we can apply self-control slimming down our energy diet.

Conserving delivers

Our peer assessed research found by taking these measures tourist accommodation can save 20-38% of their guests’ energy and water use, saving money, cutting pollution and ultimately helping people live healthier lives. If we all took these steps to waste less, use natural ventilation, adapt behaviour, it could positively contribute to redressing our overshoot days. The cost of conserving is also attractive compared to big capital investments in efficiency technologies, they also have embedded environmental footprints where conserving does not. The combined demands of reducing consumption and adapting to rising temperatures and droughts can be tackled together, while efficiency alone is not an adequate strategy. Simply, less is more, and a more intelligent way to change things for the better.


Christopher Warren