This year Earth Overshoot Day will be July 28. Every day after, we’re stealing from future generations.
156 days. That’s how many days, this year, we are going to be stealing from future generations, unless we have to courage to do something about it.
We’ve just found out that, in 2022, Earth Overshoot Day will fall on July 28 – a day earlier than last year. This is the day by which humanity has used up all of the biological resources that the Earth generates during the whole year. So every day after – 156 in 2022 – we are in planetary deficit, using up resources that won’t be regenerated.
Put a different way, in 2022 we’re on track to use 75% more resources than the world’s eco-systems can regenerate, equivalent to “1.75 Earths”. This deficit spending is the biggest it’s been since the world entered into ecological overshoot in the early 1970s.
So what do we do about it? The researchers who produce these staggering calculations rightly want us to know that we have plenty of options to #MoveTheDate. They say, for instance, embracing smart grids and higher efficiency in our electric systems would move it back by 21 days, and that reducing food waste would buy us another 13 days. We have solutions. What we currently lack is leadership.
In business, the big shift we need to make is away from approaches that are “less bad”, including a lot of Corporate Social Responsibility, or which aim to “do no harm”, including lots of net zero commitments. The hard truth is that the CSR and net zero initiatives many of us fought hard for simply don’t go far enough. Many were conceived with the best of intentions, but we now know that climate change is exponential: the worse it gets, the faster it goes. And when these approaches have the unintended consequence of lowering ambitions, masking incrementalism and letting companies off the hook for the speed and scale of change truly needed, they are actually part of the problem.
When you are robbing the planet and our children and grandchildren, stealing a bit less won’t cut it. If I murder ten people one day, but the following day it’s only 5, do I really deserve a pat on the back? It’s time we stop satisfying ourselves with insufficient and frankly timid ambitions that don’t meet the challenges at hand. Through bold action and radical collaborations between industry and government, we can step up our response, and start giving more than we take.
This is the essence of Net Positive and of efforts which recognise the need for companies and governments to renew and regenerate our environment, including by working to ensure there is less carbon in the atmosphere as well as more water, more biodiversity and more nature across the globe. If we are to once again live within our planetary boundaries we must divert the best of human ingenuity and collaboration towards transforming the systems by which we produce, use and consume. Nowhere is this more urgent than in overhauling our broken global food system, the fragility and unsustainability of which has been laid bare by Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Accelerating the shift to regenerative agriculture and renewable energy is central to this effort. And as we build new systems and a new economy, we must do so in a way which heals our societies and empowers the many who have been left behind: more equity, more dignity, more truth.
As July 28 approaches, in business we each have a choice to make, whether as leaders, workers or consumers. We can continue sleepwalking – or, more accurately, hurtling – towards catastrophe, or we can pull back, calling out greenwashing, rejecting CSR that doesn’t go far enough, and accepting that our best efforts need to be much better. Hope is found in the fact we already have much of the technology and knowledge we need: humanity has never been so forewarned and forearmed to deal with its greatest challenges. We can raise our sights, find each other, and find our courage. It’s time to embrace net positive, and not a day too soon #MoveTheDate.