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A wildfire rages in Northern California

A U.S. Forrest Service Public Information Office surveys the effects of the southeastern flank of the Tennant Fire in California on July 4, 2021. (Photo: Neal Waters/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

'Turn This Destruction Around': 5 Months Left in 2021 But Humanity's Used Up Earth's Ecological Budget

"Together we can choose one-planet prosperity over one-planet misery."

Andrea Germanos

Humans are continuing to gobble up Earth's resources faster than the planet can generate them, with this year's "Overshoot Day" landing on July 29.

"If we need reminding that we're in the grip of a climate and ecological emergency, Earth Overshoot Day is it," said Susan Aitken, leader of the Glasgow City Council, urging that the day be "our call to arms."

Driven by factors including a projected energy-related CO2 emissions growth of nearly 5% and a spike in Amazon deforestation, this year's milestone marker comes nearly a month earlier than 2020's August 22 Earth Overshoot Day. Last year's improved timeline was attributed to coronavirus-triggered shutdowns.

"Governments need to turn this destruction around," tweeted Greenpeace in reaction to the milestone day. "#ClimateAction, anyone?"

According to the metric, grounded in 15,000 data points per country, humanity would need 1.7 "Earths" to consume the biological resources currently used per year. If the world's population lived like the U.S. or Canada, the date would have fallen (pdf) on March 14.

The Global Footprint Network, which tracks the metric, along with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) on Thursday also announced the launch of the "100 Days of Possibility" initiative for the lead-up to COP 26, the key United Nations climate summit that begins October 31 in Glasgow. The initiative will highlight solutions for states and communities to take to "reverse overshoot and support biological regeneration," organizers say.

"The pandemic has demonstrated that societies can shift rapidly in the face of disaster," said Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom. "But being caught unprepared brought great economic and human cost. When it comes to our predictable future of climate change and resource constraints, individuals, institutions, and governments who prepare themselves will fare better."

The new initiative's website explains:

We are entering a 'storm' of climate change and resource constraints. The earlier we start preparing ourselves for this predictable future, the better positioned we will be.

Fighting the climate and resource crisis will be easier with international cooperation. Without it, the need for companies, cities, and countries to prepare themselves for the future becomes even more existential.

For 100 days, from Earth Overshoot Day 2021 to COP 26, we're showcasing many ways we can use existing technology to displace business-as-usual practices we can no longer afford.

Among the solutions so far highlighted is a 23-kilometer (14-mile) stretch of a former railroad line in Germany converted into the Nordbahn walking and cycling path. In the city of Wuppertal, through which the Nordbahn route passes, the proportion of cyclists has gone up from 2% to 8% of commuters over a decade—a rise attributed to the revamped infrastructure.

"If we reduce our footprint from driving by 50% around the world and assume one-third of car miles are replaced by public transportation and the rest by biking and walking, Earth Overshoot Day would move back 13 days," the initiative states.

Looking ahead to the upcoming climate summit, SEPA CEO Terry A'Hearn said it must be a moment to ensure a climate-friendly, post-Covid recovery.

"In November, as a weary world turns its attention to Scotland and COP 26, together we can choose one-planet prosperity over one-planet misery," he said. "We can and must build from the pandemic—our global ability to plan, to protect and move at pace."

"In 2021," A'Hearn added, "the Glasgow summit and the future we choose as each community, city, company, or country offers real hope for a new net-zero revolution."


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