Earth Overshoot Day – Again
by Tim Rumage, cofounder of This Spaceship Earth and Planetary Ethicist
I say again because Earth Overshoot Day for 2021 is the same date as it was in 2019 – July 29.(1)
I also say again because this is the 52nd year in a row(2) that humanity has decided to demand that the planet provide more resources and absorb more pollution in a year than the earth possibly could.
There is a comedy sketch performed by Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke that comes to mind – Frog and Peach(3). To me the take home story is when Dudley Moore asks – “Have you learned from your mistakes?” And the response is: “Oh certainly, certainly. I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure that I could repeat them exactly.”
And that is what humanity collectively does. We repeat our mistakes. We continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we over-pump water supplies, we diminish biodiversity, we usurp habitats, and we foster a food system(4) that wastes or loses 1/3 of the food while the number of people who are hungry continues to rise.
And then there is the news: droughts and fires and floods, oh my. Even there we do not get the story right. We have abnormal conditions (at least in the limited perspective of human – not planetary – memory). Perhaps it has some connection to global warming and/or climate change. The focus of the news is how the environmental events are impacting people. The critical piece of the story that is left out is how humans have impacted the environment which is the trigger for global warming and its related consequences.
Covid-19 should have been a teachable moment. It showed us the fragility of our current economic ‘truths’, assumptions, and realities. It demonstrated the willingness, speed and capacities for governments to respond to multiple, simultaneous, and widespread emergencies – as well as government’s relative value system of protecting the economy versus citizens.
Certainly Covid-19 triggered a great many conversations about a new economy, climate justice, social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Conversations long overdue and progress/correction too long denied.
Earth Overshoot Day is a reminder, a marker, and a measure of our commitment to ourselves to provide a better world for our children than we had. So far, we are failing them. Whether the failure is because we do not understand, acknowledge, want, or care to accept our responsibility for the common good is functionally irrelevant. Our children are the ones who will bear the brunt of the results our actions.
To create a trajectory for a continuously improving future we need to understand that:
“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone everywhere.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it”.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Citadelle
As Earth Overshoot Day points out that we are not on a path that allows us to make peace and partner with nature or enable a verdant future.
“If you do not change direction, You may end up where you are heading.”
“We are not only responsible for what we do, but also for what we refrain from doing.”