A Measure of Effective Partnerships
Managing the world’s ecological resources requires a commitment to environmental choices made on both an individual and community-level. There is an overwhelming number of challenges that we face today, but are any clear and effective choices we can make to avoid or reduce them?
Not all consumption has an equal, positive impact; which is obvious to ordinary consumers who work on basic lifestyle changes, such as recycling paper. No wonder the Earth Overshoot Day is both an alarming deadline and an underrecognized measure of human (negative) impact.
Understanding resource demand vs. supply
In 2018, the Earth Overshoot Day fell on 1st of August – the day by which a year’s worth of the planet’s resources has already been exhausted. The date has been creeping up the calendar every year this year, it falls on July 29th.
Earth Overshoot Day is an annual awareness campaign hosted and calculated by the international think tank Global Footprint Network, which developed research-based methodological standards to 1) determine when the population’s demand for ecological assets exceeds the ecosystem’s supply of resources and services; 2) support decisionmakers who must make informed choices when curbing/incentivizing certain activities.
The primary question is: How many days of a given year can the Earth’s biocapacity (i.e. biologically productive forests, cropland, and sea area) adequately provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint (i.e. demand for food, forest products, space for infrastructure)?
(Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day
The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot, which is a little over 5 months in 2019. This means we have exhausted a year’s worth of resources in just 7 months.
Seeking leaders that strengthen partnerships
Leadership is an important driving component of sustainable development, especially in coordinating different areas of interests and in creating effective partnerships.
A recent New York Times article declares that a lack of leadership in the last 2 decades has slowed down our ability to effectively govern the environment; whereas “[nearly] everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979: the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet. […] We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy.”
It turns out that with solid leadership at a higher level, we can clarify the most pragmatic and effective choices in sustainable development awakening, transformation, and transition. We must recognize that key drivers of sustainability are working at a variety of levels that interact, establishing the partnerships which create effective policies. To further clarify, let’s move away from individual choices and consider policymaking in general.
At a policy level, choices are clear when an intervention to advance a goal has accompanying benefits in other goals. For example, an investment in girls’ education (SDG 4) has clear collateral benefits in economic growth (SDG 8), equality (SDG 5), and health (SDG3). However, in other policy areas, choices for action may be less clear. For example, housing is a social policy tool, which can have both positive and negative impact on human health and the environment. Political pressure may result in building more housing for the poor, which may lead to clearing of forests or cropland; forced relocation of disadvantaged populations from center city to peripheral areas; and/or simply more damage to the environment from the use of concrete which contributes to global warming.
Thus, coordinating policies in the four key sustainability areas – food, population, energy, and urbanization – presents unavoidable trade-offs: it is not always possible to (re)allocate resources in a way to make any individual or community progress without making at least another individual or other community affected negatively. Understanding these trade-offs at all levels (individual, community, national or global) is critical for consumers in order to make informed decisions.
In all cases, different global actors must come together to form stronger partnerships in order to establish areas of priority, rather than multiply environmental problems in the process.
Initiatives to spread awareness like Earth Overshoot Day (and the network behind it) provide a comprehensive way to understand the competing demands on our planet’s ecosystems.