events sustainability

How far did Coronavirus move Earth Overshoot Day?

Earth Overshoot Day is calculated every year by the Global Footprint Network and WWF. It represents the day that humanity uses up a sustainable share of the planet’s resources and starts to go into ecological debt. The earlier in the year that the day falls, the faster we are using up the resources.

We can use more resources than the earth can naturally regenerate in a year, but only by taking an unsustainable amount – catching fish faster than stocks can be replenished, cutting trees faster than they can grow, etc.

Of course, this year the coronavirus has put a big dent in the global economy, and that is reflected in the date of Overshoot Day. But how far back did it move?

The answer is three weeks. All the disruption of a global pandemic ultimately reduced global environmental impact by less than ten percent. This shifts Overshoot Day back from the end of July to tomorrow, the 22nd of August.

This is open to interpretation. For pessimists, it shows how huge the changes would need to be to really put human civilisation on a sustainable footing. For optimists, it shows that a significant difference can be made in a matter of months.

One thing we can say for sure is that this year is exceptional, and that pandemics and lockdowns are not how we will achieve a sustainable world. I had a press release last week from an agency calling for an annual month-long lockdown to preserve the gains. But just because something reduces emissions doesn’t mean it’s the best way to reduce emissions, or even sensible. The solutions remain what they have been for a generation – reducing consumption, eliminating fossil fuels, and developing a circular economy.


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