IT was Earth Overshoot Day on 25 Sept 2009. The day human demand for natural resources and waste production exceeded the ecosystem’s regenerative capacity for the year. From this date till the end of the year, we would be meeting our ecological demand on a deficit, by using up resource stocks and building up greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This is according to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), a research organisation that measures how much nature we have and consume. It warns that this deficit consumption trend is worrying, and has joined other organisations to ask world leaders to come up with a more effective treaty at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in December.
The conference, hosted by Copenhagen, Denmark, is expected to produce a successor treaty to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as this New York Times article observes, has been widely criticised for its failure to meet targets. A large developed economy and source of emissions such as the US has refused to ratify the treaty while developing economies like China and India are not subjected to similar reduction goals.
So how can individuals and organisations send a message to the world leaders who will be negotiating a deal that affects all of us this December? Campaigns like TckTckTck and Seal the Deal are trying to galvanise public support for a stronger and more effective new treaty.
It seems that humanity has been demanding ecological services faster than the planet can regenerate them, a condition known as ecological overshoot, since the mid-1980s. “We now use in less than 10 months the amount of resources it takes 12 months for nature to generate,” GFN said in a press statement.
How does GFN deduce that 25 Sept 2009 was Earth Overshoot Day? Here’s the formula:
[world biocapacity / world Ecological Footprint*] x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day
* Ecological Footprint: the amount of biocapacity required to produce what we consume and absorb our waste.
(© Seal The Deal)
“By calculating the ratio of globally available biocapacity to global Ecological Footprint and multiplying by 365, we find the number of days that the biosphere can supply resources to support our demand, and the number of days we operate in overshoot this year,” it explained.
“It’s a simple case of income versus expenditures,” said GFN president Mathis Wackernagel. “For years, our demand on nature has exceeded, by an increasingly greater margin, the budget of what nature can produce. The urgent threats we are seeing now — most notably climate change, but also biodiversity loss, shrinking forests, declining fisheries, soil erosion and freshwater stress — are all clear signs: Nature is running out of credit to extend.”
In addition to estimating such symbolic dates, GFN joined various government and business leaders in Climate Week NYC, held in New York City, USA, from 20 to 26 Sept, to call for more effective action to come out of Copenhagen. “Both collective agreements and individual actions by countries, cities and organisations to improve resource efficiency and curb CO2 emissions will be critical to balancing our nature budget,” it said.
“Minimising reliance on fossil fuels in favour of cleaner and less resource-intensive forms of energy is one important step. Another is encouraging resource-efficient infrastructure,” it added.
Tick tock tick tock
Meanwhile, TckTckTck is building a global alliance of individuals and groups to call for the new Copenhagen treaty to be fair, strong and binding. The online and offline campaign, with an onomatopoeic name to demonstrate that the clock is ticking for climate change, was formed by a group of environmental, humanitarian, religious and labour organisations, which recognised the need for an unprecedented international effort urging world leaders to come up with a more effective climate change treaty.
“Many organisations are mounting their own campaigns to educate and encourage their supporters to demand action on a climate change agreement. However, to have a major motivating impact, we need to be bigger than the sum of our parts,” TckTckTck said on its website. “Our goal, with the active participation of our partners, is to aggregate all partner actions, and to be everywhere so that world leaders must respond to the global call for action.”
Among its partners are the Global Humanitarian Forum, Oxfam International, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists, Amnesty International, World Wide Fund for Nature, Centre for Social Markets, International Institute for Environment and Development and the climate crisis film, The Age of Stupid.
The TckTckTck website functions as a platform for organisations and individuals to add their names to its global call for a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal, which is defined as follows:
Ensure that global greenhouse emissions peak no later than 2017 and then decline steeply on a pathway to ensure concentrations of less than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere.
Create a pathway to clean jobs and clean energy for all.
Establish necessary conditions for a sustainable and prosperous future for people, flora and fauna.
Reduce developed country emissions by at least 40% by 2020.
Enable and support poor countries to adapt to the worst consequences of the climate crisis, reduce their emissions and ensure technology sharing including through the provision of sufficient public funds.
Protect marginalised communities in rich and poor countries.
Agree to a legally binding international agreement that can be verified and enforced.
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and file-sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr are used to spread the message, keep communities connected and share stories on how they are addressing climate change.
“We are asking the public to visit TckTckTck.org and add their name to our global call,” it said. It will present the list of names to the UN and heads of state in the lead-up to the Copenhagen talks, to show the number of people and organisations who support its call for a fair and ambitious climate treaty.
Seal the deal
UN-led Seal the Deal has set up an online petition urging world leaders to “seal a deal to power green growth, protect our planet and build a more sustainable, prosperous global economy that will benefit all nations and people”. Here’s its ideal deal:
The agreement in Copenhagen needs to focus on:
What industrialized countries will do, through individual targets, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
What developing countries will do to limit the growth of their emissions
What finance will be made available since developing countries cannot be expected to act without support
An efficient institutional mechanism for disbursing funds and an equitable, accountable, governance structure
A framework must be established that will bolster the climate resilience of vulnerable countries and protect lives and livelihoods
Stop talking, start planting
Plant for the Planet’s Felix Finkbeiner meets Germany’s Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Al Gore, who produced
An Inconvenient Truth (© Plant for the Planet)
For some, all this climate talk is just that: talk. “Everyone loves to talk about the climate crisis. But talking alone isn’t going to stop the glaciers from melting. Or the rainforests from disappearing. And each time adults just talk and don’t act, it’s up to us, the children, to take matters in our own hands,” says the Plant for the Planet student initiative.
Spearheaded by 11-year-old Felix Finkbeiner from Germany, the initiative aims to get children from all over the world to pledge and plant one million trees in their respective countries over the next three years. His idea caught the attention, and support, of the UN’s Billion Tree Campaign.
The Plant for the Planet website keeps tabs on the number of pledges and trees planted, and puts up stories on planting activities by different groups. As of 28 Sept 2009, it has pledges from 132 kids from 56 countries.
Children planting trees in Berlin, Germany (© Plant for the Planet)
These kids aren’t naive. “We know that planting trees won’t take care of all the problems we have on our planet … We children plant trees because we want to be connected worldwide and show that everyone can and must do something to save our planet and future,” Plant for the Planet said.
While the adults try to hammer out a deal in Copenhagen, at least something practical is being done to increase the tree population to absorb CO2 emissions.
Cindy Tham has no green thumbs and needs to find a sturdy tree species to plant in her yard.
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