Earth Overshoot Day: #MoveTheDate

Thursday, 28th of July was Earth Overshoot Day. What does that mean and why is it important?

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when we have used up all the biological resources that our planet can regenerate in one year, as calculated by Global Footprint Network.

For the rest of the year we as a species are living beyond our means, using up the Earth’s natural resources at too fast a rate. Over the last decades, the date has been creeping up the calendar every year, although at a slowing rate, because we can take measures to move the date.

You can see from the list how the Covid-19 lockdown, when we worked from home and didn’t travel about so much, affected the date, moving it back.

Some countries are better at doing this than others. In 2008 Ecuador became the first country in the world to grant nature legally-enforceable constitutional rights to ”exist, flourish and evolve” through an overwhelming popular vote. Ecuador ranks as one of the countries whose Overshoot Day arrives the latest in the year (December 6 this year), which means its Ecological Footprint per person is only slightly higher than the worldwide average biocapacity per person.

What a country can do, the policies a government puts in place, can make a significant difference. An individual country’s overshoot day is the date all the Earth’s natural resources for that year would be consumed if every nation was like that country.

The UK’s overshoot day was way back on May 17th. SEPA (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency) states that “If everyone lived as we do in Scotland, we would need three planets to sustain ourselves. “ To move the date, SEPA works with businesses in Scotland to try and reduce their carbon footprint.

Calculations by Global Footprint Network show, that by now more than 3 billion people live in countries which produce less food than they consume and generate less income than world average. This means they have inadequate food capacity and a huge disadvantage in accessing food on global markets. If we include all resources, not just food, the number of people exposed to this double challenge climbs to an astonishing 5.8 billion people.

Some of the things governments can do to change the date of Earth Overshoot day via policy initiatives and funding schemes are:

  • Cutting food waste in half worldwide, as practiced in many community initiatives around the world, would #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day 13 days.
  • Upgrading urban bicycle infrastructure worldwide, to a level we currently find in the Netherlands, has the potential to #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day 9 days.
  • Producing power by cost-competitive on-shore wind, as practiced in Denmark and Germany, has the potential to #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day by at least 10 days.

Local Authorities in Scotland are crucial in implementing and delivering strategies where you live which can move the date. Tourism in Orkney is a significant contributor to the islands carbon footprint. To get to the islands and move about within them visitors have to use ferries, planes and cars. Add into this mix cruise ships and moving that date back becomes very unlikely.

The 130th Kirkwall Regatta 2019 and the cruise ship Costa Mediterranean Sea. Image credit Kenny Armet

Some of these things we can do very little about at the moment: to replace our ferries would be expensive; planes are needed for journeys which require a fast connection like hospital appointments and cars are still essential for getting around most of Orkney. What the council has to do is implement and support schemes which will counter balance the carbon footprint produced by these other activities. It also has to examine its own practice -for instance its investment in fossil fuels.

There are also things we as individuals can do, some of which are easier to do depending on where you live and your needs.

1. Turning down your heating by just 2 degrees in winter.

2. Turning off the lights when you’re leaving any room for 15 minutes or more. Switch off power strips and unplug electrical devices when you’re not using them.

3.  Using cold water can save up to 80% of the energy required to wash clothes. Choosing a low setting on the washing machine will also help save water.

4. Go paperless.

5. Buy local.

6. Recycle. and reuse.

Click on this link for more tips: Zero Waste Scotland

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