Me and my Kamloops
Two children in masks due to pollution from peat farms

Our children shouldn’t have to pay for our excesses

the world’s wealthiest 10 per cent produces close to half the world’s consumption-related emissions, compared to just 10 per cent by humanity’s poorest half. (Photo: CIFOR via Flickr)

This year, “Earth Overshoot Day” came later than it has in 15 years — on August 22. That’s a mixed blessing. Increasing per capita consumption, population growth and rising greenhouse gas emissions had been moving the date earlier almost every year since the 1970s. It’s fallen in late July or early August for the past few years.

“Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year,” according to the organization behind the concept, Global Footprint Network. Even with the later overshoot date, we burned through a year’s resources in under eight months. That means we would need 1.6 Earths to support humanity’s current demands on the planet’s ecosystems.

Employing the many readily available and emerging solutions to “move the date” closer to year’s end is the goal, but this later-than-expected overshoot day was largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic rather than direct measures to address the climate emergency and other crises.

According to the Network, the global pandemic slowdown helped drive the world’s carbon footprint (that is, emissions) down by 14.5 per cent and the forest product footprint by 8.4 per cent from 2019, with an overall 9.3 per cent reduction in humanity’s global ecological footprint.

Network president Mathis Wackernagel sees this year’s result as an encouraging sign that progress is possible, but cautions that it must be made “by design not by disaster.”

He compares our behaviour to a scam where current wealth must be repaid by others in the future: “Most countries have pretty strict laws about businesses running Ponzi schemes but somehow in the ecological domain we think it’s okay,” he says in the Guardian. “We’ve only got one planet and that’s not going to change. We’ve got a very simple choice, one-planet prosperity or one-planet misery.”

This further illustrates the need for a pandemic recovery that goes beyond returning to “normal” and for measures to address environmental crises that go beyond pandemic recovery.

Everything starts from the recognition that humanity depends on fertile soil and clean air and water for our well-being and health.

Global Footprint Network focuses on five areas: planet, cities, energy, food and population. Its research and solutions align with the work of many organizations, including Project Drawdown and the David Suzuki Foundation. Everything starts from the recognition that humanity depends on fertile soil and clean air and water for our well-being and health.

Because cities already consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re becoming increasingly urban, “City planning and urban development strategies are instrumental to balancing the supply of natural capital and population’s demand.”

The David Suzuki Foundation’s energy transition research concurs that decarbonizing the economy is critical to addressing climate disruption. Shifting to more local food systems and plant-based diets, avoiding processed foods and reforming agricultural practices are also important.

Rapid population growth is also unsustainable, although consumption is a much greater problem —evidenced by the fact that the world’s wealthiest 10 per cent produces close to half the world’s consumption-related emissions, compared to just 10 per cent by humanity’s poorest half.

With greater access to education and family-planning resources, as well as increased equality and better economic opportunities, women have fewer children and often have them later in life.

Research shows the best way to slow population growth is to empower women. With greater access to education and family-planning resources, as well as increased equality and better economic opportunities, women have fewer children and often have them later in life.

Project Drawdown estimates family-planning resources and education for girls (which, it notes, should be basic human rights) could slow human population growth by one billion by 2050, consequentially keeping more than 85 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

Although slowing population growth is important, we can’t resolve the climate crisis if we don’t reduce the amount of resources we consume, especially in the developed world. As Global Footprint Network points out, we’re consuming resources at a much faster rate than Earth is able to replenish them. That’s led not just to the climate crisis, but also to a profound extinction and biodiversity crisis and continuing environmental devastation.

COVID-19 has put humanity on pause and exposed some of our current system’s flaws. It has also shown that we can slow consumption and move on to something better than the old “normal.” We’re at a crossroads and we must act quickly.

URGE OTTAWA TO SUPPORT A JUST, GREEN RECOVERY!

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David Suzuki

David Suzuki, Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. David is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way.

Education

As a geneticist. David graduated from Amherst College (Massachusetts) in 1958 with an Honours BA in Biology, followed by a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961. He held a research associateship in the Biology Division of Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab (1961 – 62), was an Assistant Professor in Genetics at the University of Alberta (1962 – 63), and since then has been a faculty member of the University of British Columbia. He is now Professor Emeritus at UBC.

Awards

In 1972, he was awarded the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship for the outstanding research scientist in Canada under the age of 35 and held it for three years. He has won numerous academic awards and holds 25 honourary degrees in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada and is a Companion of the Order of Canada. Dr. Suzuki has written 52 books, including 19 for children. His 1976 textbook An Introduction to Genetic Analysis(with A.J.F. Griffiths), remains the most widely used genetics text book in the U.S.and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Indonesian, Arabic, French and German.

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