Today, July 29, is Earth Overshoot Day. This means that, just under seven months into 2021, humanity has already used up all the ecological resources that our planet regenerates during the entire year. Put simply: We’re living well beyond our ecological means, spending far more than we earn. And a big part of this spending is carbon emissions.
It’s against this background that, 100 days from now, representatives of governments from around the world will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to try to agree on effective global actions to combat climate change. Should the 26th annual UN Climate Conference (COP26) — and a host of other events aimed at protecting our planet’s environment and biodiversity — succeed, humanity will be better equipped to prepare for a predictable future of climate change and resource constraints.
But time is of the essence; it’s a luxury we just don’t have. After all, economies, cities and companies around the globe are exposed to growing risks from climate change, pollution and environmental degradation, and to water, food and energy shortages. Not preparing themselves for this future is at their own disadvantage.
This is the reason the 100 Days of Possibility initiative is launching today. Each day leading up to COP26 in Glasgow, a proven and scalable solution will be unveiled, showcasing ways for each country, city, or business to ready themselves for a world increasingly defined by ecological overshoot.
Increasing temperature volatility, extreme weather events and mounting evidence of dramatic biodiversity loss remind us daily that we’re entering a perfect storm of climate change and resource constraints. The long-term survival of our social and economic fabric is at stake.
To weather the storm, simply telling others to repair their boat is no longer enough. All our boats require more comprehensive re-engineering: our mindsets need to change.
To weather the storm, simply telling others to repair their boat is no longer enough.
For a start, we need to recognize that climate change, biodiversity loss and resource and energy shortages are not separate phenomena: they are all interlinked. Viewing them together makes it possible to address them together, rather than trying to solve them in isolation, or even at the expense of one another.
Determined climate action, including the transition away from fossil fuels, the conservation and restoration of natural ecosystems and endangered wildlife, and better resource management benefit the actor directly. They are necessary prerequisites for building a sustainable future for us all.
So, all of us — government leaders, village mayors, CEOs — benefit from moving not just faster, but also deeper and collectively.
The “faster” is obvious. As the constant forward creep of Earth Overshoot Day illustrates, the pace of action needs to accelerate. In 1990, Earth Overshoot Day was on October 10. By 2000, it had moved to September 22. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic dampened global economic activity, the date was July 26. Last year, COVID-induced restrictions around the world pushed it back to August 22. But this year, we’ve slipped back again, sharply. Now, we can’t afford to delay reaction another month, let alone a decade.
The “deeper” part is about adopting more of the solutions that help us to reduce our impact and augment our resource security. Thankfully, a plethora of effective, scalable, and affordable solutions already exists in all sectors of the economy. And as the 100 Days of Possibility initiative demonstrates, many more are coming to market every day.
The most obvious include renewable energy and electric transportation. But physical and digital technologies that allow homes, hospitals, factories, data centers, shopping malls and airport terminals to conserve energy also have huge potential to lower our collective carbon emissions. So does the electrification of heating, which in many buildings around the globe still comes in the form of fossil fuels.
Such hardware and software are not just good for the environment. They’re also in the economic self-interest of each country, city, community, company and individual. After all, reducing resource dependence is essential for competitiveness in a world where decarbonization and growing competition for natural resources will be major drivers.
Last but not least, climate action needs to be “collective.” It isn’t enough for a company, for example, to just improve the environmental credentials of its own operations. We have to help our suppliers, business partners and customers achieve their sustainability goals, too. Likewise, public-private partnerships and knowledge-sharing collaborations with NGOs, think-tanks and academic institutions can be instrumental in taking climate-friendly initiatives and technologies to the next level.
We can weather the gathering storm. We have the tools and the knowledge. But Earth Overshoot Day makes very clear that simply replacing the sails or swabbing the decks is not enough. We need a major overhaul of the hull, keel and engines. We need bold decisions and to leave business-as-usual behind.
That goes for the policy makers meeting in Glasgow in November — and it goes for all of us, here and now.