Disaster not design

Every year, around this time, we hear the terrible (but under-reported) news that we have reached Earth Overshoot Day – the day when we’ve officially used up the resources that the planet can generate in a year.

Obviously there was a slight delay this year due to covid, but not enough of a delay to prove that we’re yet capable of turning things around. Our carbon footprint was calculated to be down 14.5% but our food footprint remained unchanged.  This year’s date was 22nd August.

It's not done by design, it's done by disaster.

Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network

 Graph showing increasing dates of Earth Overshoot Day (Credit to Science Alert)

Credit to Science Alert

We lasted 3 weeks longer than last year – every year it gets earlier. We first ‘overshot’ the resources in 1970, according to the data which the UN begun collecting in the early 60s. We are estimated to use 60% more than can be renewed (which is the equivalent of using 1.6 planets).

Diagram showing different countries overshoot days (Credit to Science Alert)

 Credit to Science Alert

If we all lived like the import heavy countries, we’d be out of resources a lot earlier, which is the most worrying thing. This diagram  shows that if the world followed our lead, they’d have run out by mid-May – we should definitely be doing more but unfortunately it isn’t all through choice that some of those countries appear at the later end of the year. It’s no coincidence that the richest countries on the list show up in the earlier part of the year. We have more so we get through more without even batting an eyelid.

Green recovery

Not all hope is not lost. Massive companies and governments alike are trying to go green - Unilever have committed to a deforestation free supply chain by 2023. South Korea have committed to a New Green Deal as part of a long-term strategy to turn things around post-covid – they’re setting out to nearly quadruple their renewable energy capacity by 2025.

In the UK, DEFRA have just announced that they’re creating new, legally binding targets for biodiversity, air quality, water and waste improvements for the mid 2030s, which will become law over the next few years. Last month, the PM announced a £350m funding package to cut emissions, reduce industrial waste, use greener building technology and promote research and development of greener vehicles, as part of our green recovery process.

We’re still committed to having zero carbon emissions by 2050 – which really isn’t that far off in the grand scheme. Last year, our emissions were 42% lower than in 1990 (despite an economic growth of 72%) – so there really is still hope that we can turn things around. If nothing else positive comes from 2020, then at least we now know (in the mask wearing, socially distanced world) that we are capable, as a species, of coming together to try and make things better.

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