Adam Ayrton Stoner

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Earth Overshoot Day: Ecological Deficit

16 days ago

Throughout most of history, humanity has used nature’s resources to build cities and roads, to provide food and create products, and to release carbon dioxide at a rate that was well within Earth’s budget. But by the early 1970s, that critical threshold had been crossed: Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce. We now use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate within the year. We do that through overfishing, over-harvesting, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.

Tomorrow (August 2nd 2017) marks 'Earth Overshoot Day', the day we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew. In economic terms, Earth Overshoot Day marks the point at which our annual 'budget' is spent and humankind's consumption outpaces Earth's capacity. We enter into ecological deficit.

In 1987 - the very first time Earth Overshoot Day was calculated - it landed on December 19th. In 2005, it was October 20th. Since the turn of the decade, it has been creeping through August at an alarming rate. This year, Earth Overshoot falls in August meaning that by the end of 2017 we'll have used 1.7 times Earth's resources. In order to match a 'one Earth in, one Earth out' ratio, we would have to wind our consumption back almost 50 years.

The trend of Earth Overshoot Day

(World Biocapacity ÷ World Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day

Less important is the specific date than the overall trend of the graph. Although we've been levelling our over-consumption since the turn of the decade, the trend is evident. From today to December 31st and beyond, we must all minimise our environmental impact as much as we can. It is our duty to use the least possible in order to move the date, which we must now desperately do.

We can do this collectively through actions that take minimal effort. It's what my new website, is all about.

Here are a few ways I've tried to move that date in the past month:

Move your bank. I switched to Triodos. They're an ethical bank, only lending money to people and organisations making a positive impact - culturally, socially and environmentally. They are 100% transparent about where your money goes, listing every major borrower on their website. I couldn't say the same for Barclays.

Move your phone network. I'm in the process of changing to The Phone Coop, a cooperative-run telecoms network that carbon-offsets their entire operation. They're also cheaper than Three.

(On the subject of carbon offsetting, I feel it gets an unwarranted hard time. Although offsets alone cannot solve the problem of global warming and while there may, on occasion, be abuses in the way offsets are marketed, this does not invalidate their use in relation to emissions which we are unable to reduce directly. I have to travel to work - I do so by car, train, and tube - but have offset my 120-mile round-journey because I feel it the right thing to do. Elsewhere, I hope I make right choices. The line: "Offset what you can't avoid" is a good rule of thumb here.)

Move your loyalty. Vote with your wallet by picking companies you like, preferably ones based locally and that run social enterprise, not-for-profits, and co-operative models. I fell in love with social enterprises and cooperatives when I began working on my own at university (Core Blimey Juice and Cider, the Cheltenham Chilli Company) and have been heavily infatuated with them ever since. They really are an amazing way to do business and I hope we see more in the future.

Whilst our individual, small actions amount to a large scale shift, there are a few things, on a wider scale, that we can do to move the date.

Decarbonising the economy is our best possible chance to address climate change and would improve the balance between our ecological footprint and the planet’s renewable natural resources. If we cut carbon emissions in half, the date of Earth Overshoot Day would be pushed back by about three months.

Food demand takes up 28% of out global footprint. How we meet this most basic need is a powerful way to influence sustainability. Sourcing food locally and avoiding highly processed foods can lower the ecological footprint. By simply cutting food waste in half, we could move the date by 11 days.

Finally, cities shoulder the largest responsibility in the size and the growth of the ecological footprint. Around 70% to 80% of the global population is expected to live in urban areas in the next 30 years. If everyone in the world switched half of their driving to biking, walking, public transit, or carpooling, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 10 days.

In cities, I believe biking schemes should be free to consumers and all new-builds topped with solar panels, following initiatives in other countries like Paris. Rooftop solar alone has the power to move Earth Overshoot Day by 2.6 days.

Implementing all of the changes proposed by the Drawdown Project ('the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming') would move Earth Overshoot Day back 111 days to 20th November, back to Earth Overshoot Day in 1976. Drawdown is a fantastic book with lots of handy suggestions on ways to reduce your own carbon footprint.

But you're not an idiot, you know how to reduce your carbon footprint already and you know how important this crisis is - so act

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© 2017, Adam Stoner.