zero waste

What’s your ecological footprint?

Earlier this year, I learned there was something called Earth Overshoot Day. It marks the date when humanity’s demand for resources (food, energy sources, trees, etc.) and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29. This means that on July 30 we started using natural resources our planet cannot regenerate in a year.

Honestly, it’s not a pleasant thought to know that we actually need almost two planets to support us the way we are living right now.

The Earth Overshoot Day website also breaks the data by countries, and that’s even more depressing.

If everyone lived as they do in Qatar, we would reach the Overshoot Day on February 11.

If we lived like Americans, we would reach the Overshoot Day on March 15.

Canada’s way of consuming natural resources is only slightly better, if we modeled the world after them, the Overshoot Day would be on March 18.

If the whole world lived as we do in Poland, we would reach the Overshoot Day on May 15. The United Kingdom isn’t a much better model, with May 17 as the Overshoot Day if everybody lived like the Brits.

Right now we have the best chance of saving the planet if we modeled our resource consumption after Niger or Myanmar (December 25), or Kyrgyzstan (December 26). But let’s be honest, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Thankfully, there is a number of things we can do to #movethedate and make sure next year the Overshoot Day will come later in the year.

And if you think you’re not part of the problem, I encourage you to go to footprint calculator and check your personal Overshoot Day. Mine, much to my shame, is July 17.

You can see your results split by type.

Even if I’m trying to be optimistic and tell myself that I just estimated my answers wrong, it still means that my Overshoot Day would fall way before December rolls around.

Food

Food demand makes up 26% of the global Ecological Footprint.

And that checks out since my diet is the biggest reason why my personal Overshoot Day is so early. I need to eliminate more meat out of my diet, as well as cheese (even though cheese is so good, guys!). On the plus side, I’ve been getting much better at planning my meals out and eliminating food waste. My local municipality also introduced biowaste containers and so a lot of my food waste is hopefully going to a compost center and not a landfill. Then again, looking at the Polish Ecological Footprint… Who knows…

In the United States, an estimated 40% of the food goes to waste. That’s the equivalent of the total Ecological Footprint of Peru and Sweden combined, or the total biocapacity of Germany.

One target of UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 Sustainable Consumption and Production is to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030. 

If we cut food waste in half worldwide, we would move Overshoot Day by 10 days.

If we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and replaced these calories through a vegetarian diet, we would move Overshoot Day 15 days (10 days are from methane emissions).

Transportation

Here’s a number I didn’t expect: Between 70% and 80% of all people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Which means that how we get around could make or break us.

Transport around town (mostly to and from work) is one of my strongest results. We can trams in Krakow that run on electricity (in addition to buses) and they are my primary way of getting around. I don’t own a car and I don’t intend on changing that, ever. 

We really should invest more in sustainable public transport. If we reduce our Footprint from driving by 50% around the world and assume one-third of car miles are replaced by public transportation and the rest by biking and walking, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 11.5 days.

Which brings me to:

Energy

Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would move Earth Overshoot Day by 93 days, or more than three months. Such a drastic change is due to the fact that carbon footprint accounts for 60% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint.

My own energy provider (with a practical monopoly in Poland) only gets 11% of the energy from renewable sources and over 70% from coal. You could say there’s room for improvement.

Meanwhile, existing off-the-shelf, commercial technologies for buildings, industrial processes, and electricity production could move Overshoot Day at least 21 days, without any loss in productivity or comfort, according to an analysis by researchers from Global Footprint Network and Schneider Electric.

There is so much that can be done to save the planet and move the Earth Overshoot Day back, giving us more time and not completely depleting the planet’s resources. You know how the saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

All we need is the will to make a change.

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