Stewart Pickering
August 3, 2023
Reading time:
12 min

This year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 2nd. It’s not quite as bad as it was last year (August 1st), but it’s not really moving as much as we need it to.

And we really need it to, because this northern hemisphere summer has really hit home how much of a crisis we are in. The UN Secretary General says we are now in the age of ‘global boiling’.

But, in amongst it all, there are solutions that give us hope. Whether it’s new tech like AI, or old tech, like trees, there’s no reason for us to submit to climate apathy just yet.

Speaking of solutions, infogr8 has partnered with Global Footprint Network to create some interactive visuals on Earth Overshoot Day, including one looking at the Power of Possibility.

The context: Earth Overshoot and a summer of climate doomism


Earth Overshoot Day Data Visualisations

July has been a terrible month for people on the frontline of climate change across the globe.

In the Italian city of Catania, temperatures of 46 degrees were too much for underground electrical cables to deal with, causing many to melt, leaving around 200,000 people to deal with the heat without electricity or water in their homes. Several Greek Islands, including Rhodes and Corfu, have faced unprecedented hot, dry summers, leading to outbreaks of wildfires, threatening locals and tourists alike.

Over in the US, we’ve seen that in some parts of California, certain insurers will no longer cover homeowners looking to insure their homes due to the prevalence of wildfires.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it’s been an unseasonably cool and wet July. Consider that this time last year, we saw temperature records being shattered across the country. But heatwaves are on the way, and the very real prospect of UK homes needing air conditioning to manage hotter summers raises questions around the supply of this energy, the cost of living crisis, and of course the circular nature of energy-intensive AC units creating more demand, and potential causing coal power plants to be fired up to meet it.

Whatever happens, our climate resilience and adaptation plans are going to be severely tested.

Visualising Earth Overshoot

Every year, Global Footprint Network calculate the date by which humanity’s demand for ecological resources in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in a year. In 2023, that date fell on 2nd August.

This year, infogr8 partnered with Global Footprint Network and data designer Lindsey Poulter to produce three interactive visuals to bring the Earth Overshoot data to life:

Earth Overshoot since 1971

This interactive visual shows how Earth Overshoot Day has changed over time. You can find the year of your birth, the year you got married, the year you gave birth to your first-born… and work out how much better we were doing back then (November 7th when I was born compared to August 2nd this year).

Country Overshoot Days

The next question one might ask is “But when is the Overshoot Day for my country?” The next visual shows the overshoots for all nations operating on a deficit. It also enables you to quickly find your own country and filter by region and income groups. Some notable countries:

🇶🇦 Qatar = February 10th
🇬🇧 UK = May 19th
🇺🇸 USA = March 13th
🇧🇯 Benin = December 26th
🇳🇬 Nigeria = No overshoot! 🎉

Power of Possibility

But what can we do about Earth Overshoot? Can we really make a difference?

Well, the short answer is yes. But of course, we need global and co-ordinated action to really make a dent and #MoveTheDate.

By far the greatest difference would be for governments to impose carbon pricing and create tax regimes that focus on decarbonisation. Doing so would move the overshoot date 63 days to the better. 

On a smaller scale, if everyone ate 50% less meat in their diet (rather than giving it up entirely), we could move the date by a week.

3 more hope-inspiring examples of climate action

The focus on practical, proactive ways to counteract Earth Overshoot is also being reflected in ground-breaking projects around the world. Here are three examples showing why the climate situation is certainly not without hope.

1. New heat maps reveal cooling effect of trees and green space

Green Space Cooling Effect Climate Resilience

What: Friends of the Earth’s research into the cooling effects of trees and green spaces is a first on modelling these combined effects on built-up areas. Alongside Terra Sulis, they have mapped the temperature variance across five major UK cities. The insights show that areas with fewer trees and green space are up to five degrees warmer during the UK’s hottest days. Armed with this data, Friends of the Earth are calling on the government to boost tree cover to at least 20% in urban areas while protecting existing trees.

Areas with fewer trees and green space are up to 5 degrees warmer during the UK’s hottest days.

Why it matters: With the increasing impact of climate change, compounded by an El Niño event, we have already seen many hottest day records broken this year. July 4th was the hottest day on Earth in over 100,000 years! This analysis shows how simple, relatively inexpensive measures like green space and trees can create a sizable positive contribution to climate action. Green spaces aren’t just for a scenic view; they’re a ‘superfood’ for our towns and cities, with benefits not just for cooling but also wellbeing, health, biodiversity and air pollution.

2. UK’s AI ‘twin’ will use big data to show the way to net zero

What: We’ve seen much digital advancement in recent years with the potential for data modelling, IoT and now digital twins. For those unfamiliar with the concept, an oversimplified comparison is the classic city builder games (SimCity and the like). Imagine your own city, with live data with social and environmental factors visualised so you can observe historic, current and future data. With such data, we can better inform data-led decisions on topics such as climate resilience, urban planning and natural hazard mitigation.  

In the UK, £2.5 million in funding has been granted to create a digital twin, using self-learning AI, to inform more sustainable land use and contribute to the UK’s net zero target for 2050. The project will use AI to improve its knowledge on how the environment works based on data such as agro-ecosystems, productivity, land management and livestock welfare.

Leading the way globally is the flagship project Destination Earth, an initiative from the European Commission that is developing a full digital twin of the Earth to help aid a sustainable future.

Stat: Emissions from cattle and sheep farming and degraded peatlands together contribute about 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions.

Why it matters: The potential for digital twins could be revolutionary to tackling climate change, and I’m excited to see how the data and design community will help to make sense of this new wealth of data and translate it into meaningful visualisations that drive understanding and decision-making for a sustainable and equal future.

3. Pumping hot: The UK’s first heat pump village

What: A Cambridgeshire village has become the first in Britain to be fuelled by heat pumps. Initiated by two locals, the idea grew from an initial feasibility study to a Council-funded project able to connect 300 homes. With a solar array powering the system, the project is almost completely carbon-neutral. There is hope that this will pave a way through the unknown for others to do the same. 

Stat: Around 1.5m UK households – usually rural – rely on oil for central heating.

Why it matters: With such a complex and global challenge, you can often feel sceptical that the small actions of just a few can really make any difference. This scheme exemplifies just how much of a difference two people can make while inspiring an entire community. I really hope to see more success stories like this in collaboration with local authorities, along with continued progress to reduce the planning complexity that can be off-putting to many.

At infogr8, we believe data lies at the heart of effective climate action in the face of doom and apathy. Book a free consultation with Stewart, our GM Sustainability, to discuss doing more with your data.

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