by Jennie Moore, Director, Institute Sustainability at British Columbia Institute of Technology and Director, Ecocity Centre of Excellence at BCIT.
For a three month period between March and May much of the world entered a state of lockdown in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. While food and essential supplies continued to be transported, most people stopped commuting to work or school, refrained from engaging in face-to-face commercial and social activities, and generally sheltered at their homes in isolation or with immediate family members. Almost simultaneously, reports of cleaner air, less noise vibration, return of bird song came in. Now, scientists are also beginning to report on other evidence that enable us to see what impacts immediate changes in our daily lifestyles can have on Earth’s Carrying Capacity.
The Global Footprint Network measures Earth’s carrying capacity and estimates Earth Overshoot Day. This is the day when humanity’s demand for Earth’s resources equals what nature can reproduce over the course of a year. Every day thereafter, humanity is living in an ecological deficit, also called ecological overshoot. This means humanity consumes more than what nature can produce to the end of the year.
As a direct consequence of the global Covid 19 lockdown, Earth Overshoot has been pushed back by more than three weeks from July 29 in 2019 to August 22 in 2020 (GFN 2020). This is due in large part to reduced consumption of fossil fuels, most likely associated with transportation, as well as reduced demand for forest products.
This experience is insightful because it demonstrates how quickly society can respond to change lifestyle and consumption patterns through coordinated government leadership and willing participation by businesses and citizens. Although the impacts of Covid 19 have been uneven, affecting lower income people more substantially, they ecological impacts of associated lifestyle changes stand as an important testament to the scope of possibility for humanity to reduce its global ecological footprint.
A recent report, called “An Introduction to Lifestyle Calculators: What can they do and measure?”, points to a proliferation of tools that are being developed to help people voluntarily find ways to reduce their ecological impact (UNEP and IGES 2020). While there is no one-size fits all solution, this is a tremendous opportunity to learn from the lessons of Covid 19 about how sustainable lifestyles can reduce impact on Earth’s carrying capacity. The report provides URL links to more than ten tools and dozens of resources. Use the links provided today to learn and live sustainably now and tomorrow.
GFN (Global Footprint Network). 2020. Earth Overshoot Day is August 22, more than three weeks later than last year. Press Release, June 5. Oakland Ca: Global Footprint Network. Available online: https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2020/06/05/press-release-june-2020-earth-overshoot-day/ (Accessed July 29, 2020).
UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) and IGES (Institute for Global Environmental Initiatives). 2020. An Introduction to Lifestyle Calculators: what can they do and measure? Online resource: https://www.oneplanetnetwork.org/sites/default/files/an_introduction_to_lifestyle_calculators-finalvisuals-min.pdf (Accessed July 29, 2020).