Mother Nature Calls in Ecological Loan on Earth Overshoot Day

This year, Earth Overshoot Day is Wednesday, August 1. Earth Overshoot Day is the date when humans have used more natural resources than our planet can renew in one year through activities such as overfishing our oceans, overharvesting our forests and emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than our ecosystems can absorb.

By the end of 2018, humans will use 1.7 Earths, and Earth Overshoot Day is earlier and earlier every year.

Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biological capacity (Earth’s supply of ecological resources that year) by humanity’s ecological footprint (humanity’s demand for natural resources that year) and then multiplying that number by 365, or the number of days in one year.

Earth Overshoot Day is an estimate, not an exact date. Humans cannot determine with 100 percent accuracy the day we will bust our ecological budget. However, every scientific model used to account for nature’s supply and humanity’s demand shows a consistent trend: we are well over our resource budget. Our debt is compounding, and the interest is devastating.

Concerns such as erosion and pollution and events such as food shortages and droughts can have many unfortunate effects on our planet and its residents. They can harm our health, degrade our infrastructure and create civil unrest – to name only a few of their worldwide impacts.

The United States Army Reserve has a global presence, and we rely on natural resources such as energy, water and land to be ready and resilient. So, any threats to our natural resources are threats to our mission.

To protect our critical assets and “Move the Date” of Earth Overshoot Day, the Army Reserve implements numerous sustainability initiatives.

The Army Reserve promotes energy conservation, increases energy efficiency and invests in renewable energy. For instance, Fort Hunter Liggett, California generates more than 30 percent of its electricity from renewable technologies. Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico generates about 25 percent of its electricity from solar and wind power. The 63rd Readiness Division completed 21 light emitting diode (LED) projects at John Paul Gaffney Army Reserve Center in Garden Grove, California, for a projected savings of 7.5 million kilowatt hours across 3.6 million square feet of building space.

And, the Army Reserve leverages water conservation and alternative water projects to save resources. To that end, the 63rd Readiness Division has installed drought-tolerant xeriscapes to reduce irrigation at several Army Reserve Centers in California. Pilot projects at Army Reserve Centers in Grand Prairie, Texas and Savannah, Georgia harvest rainwater for vehicle wash and save an estimated 140,000 gallons and 200,000 gallons of potable water, respectively.

Here are some ways to “Move the Date” in your daily life …

Reduce your energy use. If we reduce our energy consumption by 50 percent worldwide, we can move Earth Overshoot Day by 93 days.

Set your thermostat to 68 degrees in the heating season and 78 degrees in the cooling season (where feasible in areas with high humidity) to save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year.

Turn the lights off when you leave a room. Artificial lighting accounts for 44 percent of the electricity use in office buildings. And, power down and unplug electronics and appliances when you are not using them.

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs. One compact fluorescent light (CFL) can save 150 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. LEDs reduced carbon emissions by 570 million tons worldwide in 2017. CFLs and LEDs generate as much light as incandescent bulbs, but they consume less power, produce less heat and last ten to 20 times longer than their less efficient counterparts.

Conserve fuel. If people reduce their driving activities by 50 percent worldwide (assuming that one-third of vehicle miles are replaced by public transportation and two-thirds of vehicle miles are replaced by cycling and walking), we can move Earth Overshoot Day by 12 days.

Reduce your use of hot water. Wash your clothes in cold water or warm water instead of hot water to save as many as 500 pounds of carbon dioxide every year, and wash only full loads of dishes and laundry.

Take a shower instead of a bath. A full bathtub uses about 70 gallons of water, while a five minute shower uses only ten to 25 gallons of water.

Reduce your food waste. About one-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted. If we can reduce our food waste by 50 percent worldwide, we can move Earth Overshoot Day by 11 days.

Reduce your paper consumption. In the United States, paper products comprise nearly 25 percent of our municipal solid waste, and paper bills alone generate almost two million tons of carbon dioxide. Sign up for e-billing to save paper.

Choose local foods. In North America, fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1,500 miles before they reach our plates. By purchasing locally sourced food, you can reduce the emissions and costs associated with transportation. Local foods are fresher and thus more nutritious, too.

Article by Rosemarie Richard, Environmental Programs Coordinator
Army Reserve Sustainability Programs