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What causes overconsumption & overshoot?

Jan 18, 2024

What is Earth Overshoot? 

Earth Overshoot and overconsumption refer to critical concepts highlighting humanity’s unsustainable utilization of natural resources, surpassing the Earth’s capacity for regeneration. Earth Overshoot Day is a pivotal metric calculated annually by the Global Footprint Network signifying the point when humanity exhausts the planet’s bio-capacity in a calendar year. This alarming milestone underscores the extent to which our collective demand for resources exceeds the Earth’s ability to renew them. The term “overshoot” encapsulates the ecological imbalance resulting from excessive consumption, overpopulation, and wasteful practices, driving us to exceed the planet’s sustainable limits. 

At its core, overconsumption elucidates the disproportionate utilization of resources, including energy, water, land, and other vital elements, contributing to environmental degradation. This phenomenon leads to the depletion of natural ecosystems, biodiversity loss, and exacerbation of climate change. Earth Overshoot and overconsumption collectively emphasize the urgent need for humanity to reassess its consumption patterns, promote sustainable practices, and foster environmental stewardship to ensure a harmonious coexistence with the planet’s finite resources, biodiversity, and wildlife. Addressing these issues is paramount for mitigating the ecological crisis and building a resilient and sustainable future for generations to come. And for people and wildlife today. If we are to continue to have a home.

Who Contributes to Earth Overshoot & Overconsumption? 

In the complex landscape of Earth’s overshoot and global overconsumption, it’s evident that both corporations and governments play significant roles in exacerbating these challenges. Governments, often influenced by economic interests, implement policies contributing to ecological overshoot. For instance, lax environmental regulations in various countries allow corporations to exploit natural resources without adequate checks, leading to overconsumption and environmental degradation. The lack of stringent policies to limit carbon emissions further contributes to climate change, amplifying the environmental footprint. 

Corporations, driven by profit motives, engage in practices that escalate overconsumption. Planned obsolescence, a strategy where products are intentionally designed to have a limited lifespan, encourages frequent replacements, contributing to unnecessary waste and resource depletion. Aggressive marketing campaigns that promote conspicuous consumption fuel societal norms centered around materialism, driving individuals to consume beyond their actual needs. The fast fashion industry, characterized by rapid production and disposal of clothing items, exemplifies corporate practices that lead to overconsumption and strain environmental resources. 

Energy and gas companies, particularly oil giants, are pivotal contributors to Earth overshoot and global overconsumption. These corporations, driven by profit motives, engage in practices that intentionally exploit natural resources, leading to ecological imbalance. Oil companies, known for their massive carbon footprint, actively contribute to climate change by extracting and burning fossil fuels. Deliberate lobbying efforts by these entities often influence governmental policies, leading to lax regulations and limited accountability. The strategic manipulation of public perception through extensive marketing campaigns further encourages a culture of excessive energy consumption. The oil industry’s deliberate actions perpetuate a reliance on non-renewable resources, hindering the global transition to sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives. Addressing these practices is crucial for mitigating the environmental impact and fostering a more sustainable future. 

On a global scale, the expansion of industrial agriculture supported by government subsidies contributes to overconsumption of land, water, and energy resources. Large-scale deforestation driven by corporate interests seeking new areas for resource extraction further accelerates Earth overshoot. These interconnected issues underscore the urgency for collaborative efforts to address both corporate practices and governmental policies that drive Earth overshoot and global overconsumption.

Patriarchal Norms & Earth overshoot 

Patriarchal norms embedded in government policies and societal expectations significantly contribute to Earth Overshoot, particularly concerning family size. Across various cultures, a historical trend of promoting larger families is often rooted in traditional gender roles. Government policies in some regions incentivize childbirth, reinforcing the societal notion that more significant family sizes are desirable. This encouragement may involve financial incentives or support for families with more children, inadvertently perpetuating overpopulation. Additionally, religious beliefs in certain societies shape norms around family size with doctrines sometimes endorsing the idea of procreation as a moral duty.  

The pressure on women to conform to these norms is profound, as societal expectations often dictate that a woman’s worth is tied to her ability to bear children. This puts undue pressure on women to have babies and contribute to larger family sizes, irrespective of their personal choices. Such norms disregard women’s autonomy and contribute to environmental strain by fostering population growth beyond sustainable limits. Addressing Earth Overshoot requires challenging and transforming these patriarchal norms, advocating for gender equality, and dismantling policies that incentivize large families. Promoting reproductive rights, empowering women to make choices about their bodies, and fostering a cultural shift away from equating women’s value solely with motherhood are essential steps toward a more sustainable and equitable future. 

Unveiling the Human Factor in Earth Overshoot: A Behavioral Crisis Driving Climate Breakdown 

In a world grappling with the urgent need for climate action, a recent study published in The Guardian sheds light on an often overlooked yet critical aspect of the crisis – the human “behavioral crisis.” The interdisciplinary team led by Joseph Merz at the Merz Institute asserts that Earth’s overshoot, overpopulation, and overconsumption are not only driven by corporations and governments but are deeply rooted in human behavior.  

The researchers argue that prevailing climate solutions merely scratch the surface by addressing symptoms rather than the root cause. Identifying three key “levers” of overshoot – consumption, waste, and population – the study emphasizes the need to reduce demand for resources to enact substantial change. Merz contends that the material footprint of renewable energy remains dangerously under-discussed, advocating for a comprehensive approach that tackles the underlying issue of demand.  

Overshoot, as described in the study, refers to the unsustainable consumption of resources, highlighting the Earth’s materials usage, waste output, and the growth of human society. Merz argues that calls for behavior change have been insufficient for decades, as societal cues and norms often contradict efforts to promote sustainability. The study explores the exploitation of neuropsychology, social signaling, and norms by marketing strategies, creating behaviors incompatible with a sustainable world. 

Despite the historical challenges in addressing population growth, Merz and colleagues stress the importance of confronting this issue, considering its significant impact on climate gains from renewables and efficiency. The study argues that education, especially for women, is crucial in lowering fertility rates, framing it as a matter of women’s liberation. 


“In this paper, we use the term ‘behavioural crisis’ specifically to mean the consequences of the innate suite of human behaviours that were once adaptive in early hominid evolution, but have now been exploited to serve the global industrial economy.” Read The Study
“It’s a question of women’s liberation, frankly…Higher levels of education lead to lower fertility rates. Who could possibly claim to be against educating girls – and if they are, why?” 
– Phoebe Bernard, Study Co-Author

In the face of ethical concerns about exploiting psychology for climate-related campaigns, the researchers highlight corporations’ constant exploitation of human psychology for economic gain. The study urges conscious choices and ethical, justice-based interventions, emphasizing that failing to address the underlying drivers of growth-based economies will only worsen the overshoot crisis.  

As humanity stands at a crossroads, the study emphasizes the need for collective awareness and action, urging individuals to break free from the paralysis of inaction. It asserts that the impending environmental crisis is not just about humanity, but the well-being of every species and future generations. The researchers are resolute in their stance that everything we know and love is at stake, emphasizing the urgency of choosing a path forward that preserves our humanity and the planet. 

The article mentions PMC, saying “the enormous success of the work of Population Media Center, an initiative that creates mainstream entertainment to drive behaviour change on population growth and even gender violence. Fertility rates have declined in the countries in which the centre’s telenovelas and radionovelas have aired.”

Addressing Earth Overshoot 

In the urgent quest to address Earth’s overshoot, overpopulation, and climate change, it is imperative to focus on three interconnected issues: waste, consumption, and population. These factors contribute significantly to the ecological crisis, and acknowledging their interconnectedness is crucial for effective solutions. The excessive consumption of resources, leading to waste generation, amplifies the strain on our planet. Simultaneously, overpopulation exacerbates the resource demand, creating a cycle that intensifies Earth’s overshoot. Recognizing and mitigating these issues are paramount for a sustainable future.  

In pursuing solutions, it is essential to center the discourse on human rights, particularly emphasizing the rights of women, girls, and marginalized communities. Overpopulation intersects with issues of gender equality and social justice. Empowering women through education and access to reproductive rights is pivotal in curbing population growth. By advocating for these rights, we not only address the demographic aspect of Earth’s overshoot, but we also contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world. Moreover, sustainable consumption practices and waste reduction must be worked on within a human rights context, ensuring that vulnerable communities are not disproportionately affected and that everyone has access to a dignified life. 

The interconnected nature of waste, consumption, and population underscores the need for comprehensive strategies championing human rights. Tackling Earth overshoot requires a holistic approach to recognizing the intrinsic link between environmental sustainability and social justice. By prioritizing human rights, particularly those of women, girls, and marginalized communities, we pave the way for inclusive solutions addressing the ecological crisis’ root causes. As individuals and societies, it is our collective responsibility to foster a future where all rights are upheld and the planet thrives sustainably for generations to come.  

Population Media Center is a transformative force in pursuing a healthier and more just world by leveraging the power of entertainment-education. Through innovative approaches like television and radio dramas, we address prevailing social norms and catalyze behavioral changes toward more sustainable practices. We craft narratives that resonate with diverse audiences by incorporating well-established theories such as Albert Bandura’s Social Role Modeling Theory and drawing on Carl Jung’s archetypes. Our theory of change is rooted in the belief that by influencing individual behaviors and societal norms, we can contribute significantly to creating a more sustainable, equitable, and compassionate global community. 

 In weaving compelling stories that serve as both mirrors and windows into our collective consciousness, Population Media Center exemplifies the potential of media as one key contributor to shape a future where positive social and environmental values flourish.