Better news! In 2020, for the first time, Earth Overshoot Day—the day in the year when our total consumption of resources overtakes our planet’s total production of the same resources—went backwards. But only because of COVID-19.
I was on the virtual stage in Glasgow on Thursday, 20 August, as the Scottish Government announced its plans to help drive the date back further still in the coming years. Or, as the hash-tag version puts it, to help #MoveTheDate. The story was covered by BBC News today.
The actual Earth Overshoot Day was on August 22 this year – and the press release for Earth Overshoot Day by Global Footprint Network can be found here. The Day was marked with a number of events, with the global one being co-hosted by the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
“Earth Overshoot Day is the day when we go into ecological debt,” SEPA explained, “when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Over the past 20 years we’ve lost a month to global warming and climate change and we’re now living more than a third of the year in ecological debt.”
By way of background, the Global Footprint Network notes that: “Global overshoot started in the early 1970s. Now, the cumulative ecological debt is equivalent to 18 Earth years. In other words, it would take 18 years of our planet’s entire regeneration to reverse the damage from overuse of natural resources, assuming overuse was fully reversible. Solutions suggest that it is possible to live within the means of our planet. If we #MoveTheDate 5 days each year, humanity would be using less than one planet before 2050.”
GFN chief executive Laurel Hanscom told The New York Times: “The fact that Earth Overshoot Day is later this year is a reflection of a lot of suffering, and the reflection of imposed changes to our lives,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a silver lining to that. Far from a victory, Ms. Hanscom regards the delay of Earth Overshoot Day this year, and the pandemic that prompted it, as a warning sign. One way or another, humanity will come into balance with the Earth. We don’t want it to be through disaster. We want it to be through intentional, designed efforts to make sure it doesn’t come at such a high and terrible human cost.”
“Scotland is suddenly extremely exciting,” I told the global launch audience, reported to be some 800 participants from 23 nations around the world. “The country is in the spotlight because of next year’s COP26 climate summit, which it will host in Glasgow, but it is also notable because of its leadership in climate policy and action.”
All credit to our long-standing friends at the Global Footprint Network. They have started a movement which does for the 2020s what the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has long done for the risk of nuclear catastrophe—and now also for climate risk.
“Small nations are in a great position to show leadership,” said Scottish Government Secretary Rose Strathearn. SEPA noted: “Successful businesses in future will be those that use low amounts of water, materials and carbon-based energy and create little waste. Prosperous societies will be comprised of these businesses. This can be Scotland.”
Launching the Glasgow conference, GFN co-founder Mathis Wackernagel insisted: “Stop saying “should”. What do you really want? What do you love? That’s how we’re going to shift.” As SEPA chief executive Terry A’Hearn tweeted, “Plenty of solutions exist that #MoveTheDate of #EarthOvershootDay!”