Earth Overshoot Day | August 2nd 2023

Earth Overshoot Day “marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that same year”. This year Earth Overshoot Day is August 2nd, and from this point forward our way of life is no longer deemed sustainable. In 1970 Earth Overshoot Day occurred on the 30th December, meaning in the space of 50 years we have increased our demand on the Earth’s natural resources by almost 42%, while the Earth’s biocapacity has diminished significantly.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #6 aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. The outcome targets are: safe affordable drinking water; improve access to sanitation and hygiene; improve water quality, wastewater treatment, and safe reuse; increase water-use efficiency and freshwater supplies; protect and restore water-related ecosystems. Many aspects of SDG 6 relate directly to moving Earth Overshoot Day. Living comfortably within the means of our planet is not out of reach. There are plenty of solutions, in 5 major areas: planet, cities, energy, food, and population, and water is a key component and therefore deserves protection.

Planet: Our quality of life depends on the health of our planet’s life support system and biological resources. Groundwater, forests, peatlands, wetlands, rivers, lakes and seas all form part of the planet’s life support system, so clean and adequate water resources are crucial to maintaining a healthy planet and healthy population.

Solutions such as classical conservation, habitat and ecosystem restoration, and regeneration align with the SDG’s 14 and 15, which calls for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, and the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

Cities: Currently, 56% of the planet’s population lives in urban areas. It is estimated that by 2050 this will increase to 80%. Smart city planning, and urban development strategies will play a key role in making sure there is enough biological regeneration to avoid excessive human demand. Sustainable cities focus on reducing the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities that includes sustainable urbanisation and human settlement. Where cities and populations grow, water demand and the need for waste-water management and disposal will also increase.

Solutions such as integrated urban living, smart homes, and urban trees align with SDG 11 that calls for enhanced inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated, and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.

Energy: Over 150 years ago, the carbon footprint of humanity was zero. To limit the global temperature increase to below 2°C, the carbon footprint would need to be zero once again. The energy transition and phasing out of fossil fuels have been identified as a key component of achieving zero emissions by 2050. Wardell Armstrong is proud to have been carbon neutral since 1st April 2020.

Hydro-electric power is a well-established green energy solution globally. However, as the occurrence of climate extreme events grow, countries that already find themselves in water stress and drought conditions are finding the availability of surface water to power hydro-electric stations in growing challenge. Some have already started development of alternative green energy solutions.

One area that is growing in traction as a solution to the energy demand is geothermal heating and cooling. By utilising the energy in the form of heat from both deep sedimentary basins and shallow abandoned mine workings, geothermal can be applied to a wide range of heat applications, contributing to the decarbonisation of the heat market, improving food security, and creating jobs. Geothermal cascade systems utilise heat at different temperatures cascading through high to low temperature applications, such as high temperature dairy facilities to mid temperature aquaculture, to low temperature greenhouses. It is also possible to utilise these systems for cooling by circulating cool water through a space, transferring the heat underground, and returning it to the surface when needed. While large volumes of water are often abstracted for geothermal, most of it is returned to the sub-surface, recirculated, and reused to bring more heat to the surface.

The main image is an example of a geothermal greenhouse where thermal waters are used to maintain temperatures overnight which helps to reduce condensation and insect infestation, which in-turn increases productivity. This greenhouse was at the low end of a cascade system and waters from the aquaculture ponds in this system were enriched with nutrients from fish farming that were then used for drip irrigation of the crops. This aligns with SDG 7, which promotes affordable and clean energy for all, as well as a greater share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Food: Half of our planet’s biocapacity is used to feed us. This includes clearing land for agriculture, production/energy inefficiencies, and food waste. Additionally, vast water volumes are needed throughout the food development chain, often much is lost through inefficient irrigation technologies but could be better managed through appropriate drip-irrigation technologies, rainwater harvesting, and recirculation of runoff, as well as sustainable abstraction.

Population: It is estimated that the Earth’s population will double by 2100. Empowering individuals and communities through education and capacity building can help address the challenges that we face.

Many of the suggested solutions that address our demand on the planet are already deployable and scalable. Wardell Armstrong offers a diverse range of services and solutions that support our clients in reducing their carbon footprint and increasing their sustainability.

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