Humanity is in debt since this past Saturday, August 22nd: from this moment on, it will have consumed the natural resources that the Earth can renew in 12 months. For the first time, this symbolic “Day of Overcapacity” receded, due to the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, although there is no reason to be happy, according to its promoters.
This date known as “Overshoot Day“, has been calculated since 2003 by the US NGO Global Footprint Network, in order to illustrate how the expanding world population consumes faster and faster on a limited planet. Thus, this year 1.6 Earths would be needed to meet the needs of humanity in a sustainable way.
To calculate the date, the ecological impact of human activities – in particular land and sea surfaces that absorb the impact – is compared with the “biocapacity of the Earth, that is, ecosystems that can be regenerated.”
“Overcapacity” occurs when human pressure exceeds the regenerative capacities of ecosystems, a date that has been constantly anticipated for 50 years: December 29nd in 1970, November 4th in 1980, October 11th in 1990, 23rd September 2000 and August 7th, 2010. Last year it was July 29nd. Thus, August 22nd, 2020 marks an unusual improvement, but it can be attributed only to the consequences of the global Pandemic, which paralyzed entire sectors of human activity.
“There is no reason for joy, since it is accompanied by suffering, it was not done on purpose but due to a catastrophe”, underlined Mathis Wackernagel, president of GlobalWackernagel, and also warned that planetary resources are being treated as a credit, leaving them indebted to future resources. “Like money, you can spend a little more than you have, but not permanently,” he said.
Science determined years ago the consequences of living on credit with the planet: from climate change to the disappearance of species and ecosystems.
Debt in Costa Rica
Lifestyles —as well as the use of natural resources— are different between countries, so some are more indebted than others, according to the NGO. If the entire world population lived like Costa Rica, for example, the “day of planetary overcapacity” would have already happened since August 10th. In Latin America, the country with the lowest deficit in this analysis is Ecuador, since its “day of overcapacity” would not occur until December 14th.
Other countries, however, have a much heavier per capita footprint on the planet. If all the world’s population lived like the population of Qatar, for example, the day of overcapacity would happen from February 11th. If everyone lived like a United States citizen, this would happen on March 14th.
Unprecedented drop in emissions
The latest reports by UN experts clearly identify the way forward: reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, abandonment of fossil fuels, drastic change in the agri-food production model …
And it is that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement of 2015 and keep global warming well below +2 ºC compared to pre-industrial levels, emissions should be reduced 7.6% annually, according to the UN.
A study published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change warned that the unprecedented drop in emissions during the confinement of a large part of the world’s population – which could be 8% according to its authors and more than 10%, according to Global Footprint -, it will be of no use if there is no systemic change in energy consumption and feeding habits.
To insist on this, the Global Footprint Network launched the #movethedate (delay the date) campaign, ensuring, for example, that reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion by 50% would save us more than 90 days.
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF, associated with this NGO’s event since 2007, trusts that after the COVID-19 crisis and the reflections it aroused around the models of society, humanity will know how to “draw the lessons from what this Pandemic evidenced: the unsustainable relationship of waste and destruction that we maintain with nature”.