How Does the Food System Impact Earth Overshoot Day?

Earth Overshoot Day falls sooner every year, sounding the alarm on sustainability.

31 Jul 2023

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date in which our global demand for ecological resources exceeds what Earth can regenerate in a given year.

In an ideal world, in which our consumption of Earth’s resources was sustainable, Earth Overshoot Day would fall late on the date of December 31. In 2023, it falls on August 2.

Our collective food choices and agricultural practices play a pivotal role in rebalancing our use of resources. By embracing sustainable and eco-conscious alternatives, we can work toward a balanced and harmonious relationship with our planet’s resources.

The Current System

The agriculture industry (and industrial livestock production in particular) plays a significant role in bringing Earth Overshoot Day forwards.

It is our responsibility as consumers to understand how.

Nobody can now deny the relationship between intensive farming, the climate crisis, and environmental disruption. Intensive animal farming heavily contributes to greenhouse gas emissions like methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, increasing the greenhouse effect and worsening global warming.

Animal products from large-scale industrial farms leave a disproportionately large ecological footprint. For example, producing one ton of beef requires 14 times more biologically productive land than is needed to produce one ton of grain. Moreover, global livestock is responsible for approximately 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions.

If we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and increased our consumption of plant-based alternatives (legumes, whole grains, fruits and nuts and vegetables), we could push Earth Overshoot Day back by a staggering 17 days.

Even reducing meat consumption to just one day per week could move the date by 1.8 days.

What if we were to tell you that small-scale farming can act as a CO2 remover?

Those who calculate when Earth Overshoot Day falls have identified many existing solutions which are ready to be deployed at scale.

The Slow Food Presidia model is one of them.

Slow Food Presidia are groups of producers committed to preserving food biodiversity and passing on traditional production techniques and crafts. They ensure high animal welfare, take care of the environment and add value to landscapes, places, local economies and cultures.

Together with Global Footprint Network, we have analyzed the environmental impact of Slow Food Presidia and whether they contribute to postponing Earth Overshoot Day. This investigation is based upon the results of the life cycle analysis performed by INDACO2 (INDicatori Ambientali e CO2), a spin-off of the University of Siena, which assesses the environmental impact of food produced following Slow Food principles.

Among these Presidia are the Italian Mora Romagnola, (DA VERIFICARE) a pig breed indigenous to northern Italy which is in danger of disappearing, and the Macagn, (DA VERIFICARE) a typical mountain cheese made from raw, full-fat, cow’s milk.

This research proves what we at Slow Food have been saying for a while: that sustainable animal production, as practiced by small-scale, artisanal and environmentally conscious producers, is not only possible but essential.

We have used universally accepted and applied scientific parameters to measure the environmental impact of Presidia products and compared the results with similar industrial products. Carbon footprints are quantified in grams, kilos or tons of carbon dioxide (CO2 eq). To make the results easier to understand, we have expressed CO2eq as the kilometers a car would have to travel to emit the same quantity of CO2.

How is this possible?

Small-scale food systems surrounded by nature, such as silvopasture, sequester 5-10 times more carbon than treeless pastures, reducing the risk for farmers and ranchers and improving overall resource security. Transitioning to sustainable farming practices that emphasize silvopasture techniques and biodiversity preservation is no longer a future ideal but a pressing necessity.

And the time to act is now.

Scaling up silvopasture practices could move Earth Overshoot Day by 4 days by 2050, contributing significantly to a more sustainable future while supporting initiatives that promote carbon removal, such as those seen in the Italian Macagn Cheese Presidium, can help offset emissions and make farms carbon “removers.”

A sustainable future is within our grasp if we work together and take cohesive action.

Let’s reduce our resource consumption, secure our future and save the planet.


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