Happy 'Belated' Earth Overshoot Day 2021!
If only it were belated. Even to be belated to 12th October would be a big step forward.
The least celebrated day of the year, but arguably one of the most important. Earth Overshoot Day represents the date when our demands outstrip what the Earth can regenerate in a year. This year, that day fell on 29th July. It is the fourth time in the past 5 years that it has fallen as early as July (last year it moved forward to 22nd August as a result of the pandemic; a significant step forward but not as big as many hoped), though thankfully is not quite the earliest (that prestigious award goes to 2018 where it fell on 25th July). This overshoot equates to approximately 1.7 Earths; the last time I checked, we only had One Earth.
The first recorded Overshoot Day was in 1970, 30th December to be exact, so it is not as if this is a new thing that has suddenly crept up on us; the trend of the overshoot day steadily moving earlier has continued this year up until 2010, since then it has only gradually moved from 6th August to 29th July, but it has still moved. There is hope then, but that is forgetting about all the damage that has been done every year since 1970 on this metric, it is still a serious concern that only a pandemic can halt and reverse this momentum and even then only by a few weeks, taking us back to the equivalent of 2005, still way too early.
Of course, not everywhere on Earth has the same rate of ‘overshooting’, depending upon available resources and general sustainable practices and there are some nations that do not overshoot at all; if we lived like Indonesia then Earth Overshoot Day would be as late as 18th December, whilst on the other hand a Qatar lifestyle would result in a terrifying 9th February overshoot day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, amongst the Middle Eastern oil giants it is the western world that is the most guilty of letting the side down; an American lifestyle would result in 14th March, but the UK is not much better (especially considering our size) at 15th May. China, often seen as the major superpower in the world, actually fares quite well by comparison on 7th June, but after this date the only European nations to feature are Romania on 21st June and Ukraine on 8th August, both former Soviet nations with large areas of traditional farming techniques and lifestyles.
So, where do we go from here? The next UN Climate Change Conference, COP26 will be held in Glasgow on 31st October to 12th November with the aim of accelerating action towards the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. Meanwhile the IPCC has released a special report, its starkest warning yet, of the need to avert the climate crisis, now. For decades the world’s governments have put it on the backburner, with the naïve and to be plain, childish view that ‘oh it’s centuries away yet’ (so even then they admitted it would be a problem…but didn’t care), well, that very quickly turned to decades, to years, to yesterday; it is here, it is happening, people are suffering, people are dying, wildlife is suffering, wildlife is dying at the hands of us, the most destructive force on earth.
What makes it worse is these world leaders then have the audacity to blame the public for not recycling enough, wasting too much food or not using public transport enough; of course these are issues but let’s break them down:
Recycling – rates are poor and more encouragement and advertising to increase uptake has to be done to educate people of the benefits and what actually happens to the material once it’s picked up from the street. There are a lot of reports, some real, some blatantly fake, of cases where the recycling bins and rubbish bins are mixed up and it all goes to landfill – these stories, however legitimate, damage people’s confidence in the system and think ‘oh what’s the point?’ – we’re more than entitled to think that as well anyway without really ever knowing what difference putting that tin can into the blue bin or green bin or purple bin or whatever colour bin/box/bag it is (surely that can be made simpler?) compared to putting it into the grey/rubbish bin; so education really is key here.
To further improve rates a lot of onus MUST go on to the big players, the big supermarkets and again the governing bodies who regulate them. Why oh why is plastic packaging within a tray within a cardboard sleeve still a thing? The amount of single-use packaging is coming down and recycled material that can be recycled again is obviously better than nothing, but recycling still uses a lot of energy and has high carbon emissions attached to it (the process as well as the fuel in the trucks to pick up from the kerb). The best thing to do is to avoid using that plastic in the first place; less goes to waste, less needs to be recycled.
Food waste – closely linked to recycling; more education and heightened awareness of the damage this does. Not only is it literally a waste of good food when there is widespread hunger and poverty in the world (and a lot closer to home than we in the so-called ‘affluent West’ would like to think), but when it goes to landfill it decays, releasing methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, an exceptionally effective one at trapping gases in the o-zone layer, resulting in global warming (or climate change). It is approximately 30 times more effective than carbon dioxide, so it is pretty important to not ignore it; therefore chucking leftovers or worse, food, that hasn’t even been eaten (yup, it happens, a lot) into the rubbish bin has a huge impact on climate change.
Going back to food that hasn’t been eaten; yes, people need to plan ahead and not forget about food they bought during the big shop that has now gone off and they need to save food as leftovers for lunches or tea/dinner (depending upon where in the country you come from!), but some of the responsibility lies elsewhere, it lies, again, with the big supermarkets. Massive portions that feed an army and buy one get one free offers (BOGOF) aren’t as common as they once were, but the latter in particular need to be eradicated; by advertising a BOGOF offer a member of the public is more likely to think that they’re missing out by not taking up the offer, regardless of the tight expiry date or, more importantly, that they do not NEED it. Now, this is a tricky subject as supermarkets have profit targets and there is a certain art to marketing and sales and keeping staff employed etc. But that extra item often goes to waste as it is surplus, so surely there is a better way?
Public transport – well, we all know, or at least feel, that public transport in the UK is an utter joke. It has been for decades. We tolerate it like we tolerate the rain and the long winter nights and our cricket team’s batting collapses. But why? “Because we’re British” often comes the tired, worn retort. It simply isn’t good enough; the weather and the dark and sadly even our test cricket we can’t really control, but running buses and trains to a reasonable degree of punctuality at affordable rates, how have we not sorted this? Now this one really cannot be blamed on the public; why would you want to get on a dirty, uncomfortable, late, expensive bus or train when you can drive door to door? I like train journeys, when they’re on time and I’ve had the foresight to book 3-4 months in advance, they’re a dream; the scenery, the comfort and being able to have a nap or just relax or even do some work if necessary, is far less stressful than driving on our horrendously congested roads. But how often is this the case with our trains? They seem to be late or cancelled without any real warning, just a ‘sorry for any inconvenience’ message, entire carriages are diverted elsewhere so the train is double booked and it’s pot luck if you get a seat or get cosy in the aisle by the stinking toilet – and all this at a ridiculous expense. So it’s no wonder that our roads are getting worse.
The governing bodies have to step in; it’s no good telling people to travel more sustainably or actively when public transport is in its current state and our roads are death traps for cyclists – if the service can’t be improved then the price must be reduced; if they are improved (significantly) then the current price is justifiable, just, but this appears to be a pipe dream at the moment.
Rant over. The message though is quite clear; governing bodies need to do more. They can’t just sit by and hope the public engage, regulations need to be tighter, investment needs to be focused on renewable technology not fossil fuels, single use plastics need to be avoided (I won’t even delve into the fact that most of the plastic in the ocean is from discarded fishing nets) and much more besides.
Earth Overshoot Day has flown by already; but we can turn back the tide – the overshootday.org website is posting 100 days of possibility in the lead up to COP26, each measure suggests how far the overshoot day could be moved back by; food waste reduction could see the date moved back by 13 days, improving bicycle infrastructure a further 9 days, even keeping your sofa a few more years could push the date back a day…so doing nothing benefits the planet sometimes!
Energy efficiency in our buildings is a huge area that can be improved and could shift the overshoot date back by a massive 21 days, or 3 weeks, all on its own. It’s not blue-sky thinking but existing technologies and processes that can be installed or tweaked to make huge differences; in the world of energy efficiency, often the most simple and seemingly smallest changes can add up to create big financial and carbon savings, often with other benefits of increased productivity and comfort.
The possibilities are endless; they need to be. Climate change is here to stay and we need to learn to adapt to our ever changing world.
kW Energy Consultants provide consultancy support to all sectors and industries to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions within buildings and deliver building energy compliance – Display Energy Certificates, Energy Performance Certificates, Part L Checks, Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme, bespoke energy audits, reporting, projects & much more. To find out more visit www.kwenergyconsultants.com.