The Earth Overshoot Day is this weekend (on August 22 to be specific). Starting August 23 we will be using our planet’s resources that Earth is unable to regenerate this year.
That’s it. That’s the post.
Starting Sunday, everything you consume, and everything you throw out is not something that Earth can grow back for next year. We’re basically living on credit now.
Admittedly, it’s already too late, but it doesn’t mean we can stop fighting.
Saving the ecosystem
The three ways we can boost the health of our ecosystems, and the planet’s capacity to regenerate biological resources are as follows:
- Classical conservation ― Efforts to protect and preserve wild spaces, particularly biodiversity hotspots. E.O. Wilson suggests that it would take half of the planet’s biocapacity to secure about 85% of biodiversity. Many organizations have supported such conservation efforts, including WWF who has worked on strengthening countries’ and regions’ park systems, and other organizations who have secured conservation easements on private and public properties.
- Restoration ― Many ecosystems have been overused and need to be restored. For example, forests converted to raise cattle in the province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica has led to land deterioration. With restoration, some of that land is now being reforested. Similar efforts have been made around the world, from China to Ethiopia. Reforestation of tropical forests and mangroves has the triple benefit of increasing biodiversity, sequestering carbon dioxide, and acting as flood barriers during hurricanes for coastal urban areas in the tropics and sub tropics. Trees have been the focus of the youth organization Plant for the Planet leading to their ambitious One Trillion Trees campaign.
- Regenerative agriculture and sustainable fishing ― To keep feeding humanity, we need to find ways of farming that maintain soil-productivity, groundwater levels, water cycles, and genetic diversity, while avoiding contamination. Regeneration is becoming an international movement and there are growing numbers of exciting examples, such as this one in Patagonia. Sustainable fishing is another aspect. It supports overall ocean health, and helps ensure that the ocean continues to provide for generations to come (approx. 3 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein, especially in low-income countries). A healthy ocean also needs acidification to be slowed by controlling carbon emissions, since the ocean currently absorbs 30% of our carbon emissions.
Changing our cities and communities
The majority of the population is expected to live in cities by 2050 (even 80%), so we need to make sure that our cities are as sustainable as possible. I’ve already written about the importance of public transport and inner-city parks. But we can’t stop there.
UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities includes targets such as:
- reducing the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities.
- providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, notably by expanding public transport.
- enhancing inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.
The carbon Footprint makes up 57% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. Not only is decarbonizing the economy our best possible chance to address climate change, but it would also vastly improve the balance between our Ecological Footprint and the planet’s renewable natural resources.
Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would move Earth Overshoot Day by 93 days, or more than three months. 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.
We need to make sure our consumer habits are as sustainable as possible. We need to weight carefully the carbon footprint of every product we buy and make sure we choose the better solutions at every step.
If we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and replaced these calories through a vegetarian diet, we would move Overshoot Day 17 days. And that includes 10 days from reduction of methane emissions. If we cut food waste in half worldwide, we would move Overshoot Day 13 days.
The Earth Overshoot Day website suggests focusing on two major issues:
- Resource inefficiency in food production
Animal calories are significantly more resource intensive than plant calories to produce. In fact, China’s government is committed to reducing meat consumption by 50% by 2030. This would reduce the Ecological Footprint by 377 million global hectares and move the date of Overshoot Day back 5 days (including methane emissions).
- Food waste
About one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption — 1.3 billion tonnes every year — gets lost or wasted, with high and low-income countries dissipating roughly the same quantities of food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. In the United States, an estimated 40% of the food goes to waste. That’s the equivalent of the total Ecological Footprint of Sweden and Colombia combined, or the total biocapacity of Bolivia.
Every little improvement in this area can have a global impact.
If the average family size is half-a-child smaller in the future, i.e. if every second family has on average one child less, there will be one billion fewer of us in the world than the 9.7 billion that the UN expects by 2050 – and four billion fewer by the end of the century. Given increasing longevity, the end of this century is within the expected lifetimes of children born today.
Reducing family size at this rate is equivalent to moving back Earth Overshoot Day by about 30 days, or one month, by 2050. Long-term benefits are even more striking. This continued reduction in family size would result in 50% more biocapacity per person in 2100. More biocapacity makes it easier to have thriving lives for all within the means of the planet.
Investing in smaller families through the empowerment of women is consistent with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 5 Gender Equality calls for ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. Targets include:
- Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
- Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a roadmap for us to #movethedate and become more sustainable. We are in a climate crisis and we need action.