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Coronavirus Pandemic Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks, But It's Not Sustainable
By Stuart Braun
Back in 1970, the earth's biocapacity was more than enough to meet annual human demand for resources. But in the half century since, we have steadily outgrown our single planet. Humanity now consumes around 60% more than Earth can yield in a year, meaning we need 1.6 planets to sustain us.
In 2019, we had already spent our resource budget for the year by July 31, the earliest Earth Overshoot Day ever recorded by the Global Footprint Network, which has been calculating global and national ecological impacts for near three decades. In that time, humanity has overshot its biocapacity — defined as an "ecosystems' capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans" — by a few more days each year.
But due to the global coronavirus lockdown, 2020 has bucked the trend. This year, Earth Overshoot Day has moved back by more than three weeks to August 22.
Projections point to almost 15% reductions in CO2 emissions (around 60% of the total footprint) in 2020 as a result of the pandemic-related slowdown in fossil fuel use across the transport, power, industry, aviation and residential sectors. The global Earth Overshoot calculation, which uses data from the likes of the International Energy Agency, also includes forest production, which dipped nearly 9%, and our food footprint, which was steady.
One Planet Misery or Prosperity?
According to Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, this year's contraction is welcomed. But he says the fact that it is accidental means it is not sustainable.
"The tragedy of this year is that the reduction of carbon emissions is not based on a better infrastructure such as better electricity grids or more compact cities," he told DW. "We need to move the date by design, not by disaster."
To meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to limit warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celcius, the current decline in the emissions curve would have to continue at the same rate for the next decade, Wackernagel points out. At present, however, this is being achieved through economic and social suffering.
"Not doing anything, being stuck at home. That's not the kind of transformation we need. It's not lasting," Wackernagel said.
The goal must be to "systemically adjust to the physical budget we have available," added the Swiss-born Global Footprint Network founder and 2018 World Sustainability Award winner. "Do you want one planet misery or one planet prosperity?"
Wackernagel argues that the coronavirus is itself a reflection of ecological stress. "These pressures that we see like pandemics, like famine, like climate change, like biodiversity loss, they're all manifestations of an ecological imbalance," he said.
Lowering Emissions for the Benefit of All
A key side effect of disaster-driven emission reductions is the fact that "the pain is going to be unevenly distributed," according Wackernagel. Marginalised groups, especially people of color, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic's "huge economic impacts," said Sarah George, a senior reporter with Edie, a UK media company that promotes sustainable business practices.
Edie conducted its first Earth Overshoot webinar in 2019, with the aim of educating organizations to reduce their resource footprint through business models that are sustainable for everyone in the long-term.
George says this year's webinar on August 22 will also address the misnomer spread by some climate skeptics that a green, low-consumption future is only possible under the deprivations of a lockdown.
"They have used the situation to say that lockdown is 'what green campaigners want,' and that we cannot enjoy things like international travel, economic growth, etc. in a green future," George told DW.
But post-lockdown, George says the goal is to create a one planet model through which businesses can couple "better economic and social outcomes" with "lower emissions and air pollution."
Ecological Debt Balloons in Developing Nations
Earth Overshoot Day is calculated both globally and among individual countries, and reveals how developed nations are eating up the earth's biocapacity at a much faster rate.
In the U.S., where overshoot day falls on March 14 this year, citizens will require around five planets to maintain their outsized ecological footprint. Germany overshoots 50 days later on May 3, but still requires two planets.
"In Sweden we live as if we had about 4 planets according to WWF and Global Footprint Network, and roughly the same goes for the entire Nordic region," wrote climate activist Greta Thunberg last October when rejecting a Nordic Council environment award on the grounds that people in power should instead "listen to the current, best available science."
While Scandinavia is known for world-leading investment in renewable energy, and in rapid transport electrification in the case of Norway, Global Footprint Network data shows that individual consumption remains highly unsustainable. By contrast socialist outpost Cuba, which overshoots on December 1, is one of the few nations that's almost living within its means.
In Australia, a country regarded as a biocapacity giant due to its relatively small population and vast natural resources, is now running a biocapacity deficit for the first time in its history following the devastating fires of 2019-2020. The world's driest continent exhausted its ecological capacity on March 30 this year.
A fire-ravaged Australia has, according to a Global Footprint Network report, shown "how fragile biocapacity can be."
"With climate change and resource overuse, we place greater demand on ecosystems that are essential for the survival of not only humanity but wildlife species as well," wrote the authors. "Growing demand met by less robust biocapacity becomes a dangerous combination."
But any attempt to move the date towards one planet compatibility will require a systematic reduction of our ecological footprint in a way that also conforms with the strictures of climate science.
For Mathis Wackernagel, this must start with the individual, a principle that is also fundamental to fighting the coronavirus. "If you protect yourself, you protect everyone," he says.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Average monthly sea surface temperature (in degrees Celsius, red scale) and average continental rainfall in South America (in millimeters/month, blue scale) from 1981 to 2016. Sea surface temperatures and precipitation are generally higher around the equator. On the left, the area where El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) occurs; dotted lines indicate the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in January and July, responsible for transporting heat and humidity from the oceans around the tropics.
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By Derrick Z. Jackson
Officials at the highest levels are discussing the possibility of caving in on controlling the coronavirus and instead letting it run rampant throughout the United States until we reach "herd immunity," the point where the virus effectively runs out of people to infect. More than 6,200 scientists, health professionals, and research organizations say this is inhumane and have signed a memorandum rejecting herd immunity as a legitimate strategy.
Herd Immunity’s Unacceptable Toll<p>Resumption of normal life in the United States under a herd immunity approach would result in an enormous death toll by all estimates. Former CDC director Tom Frieden <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-frieden-herd-immunity-wrong-solution-coronavirus/2020/10/16/acb4ae8a-0fe6-11eb-8074-0e943a91bf08_story.html" target="_blank">estimates</a> that another 500,000 people would have to die to achieve 60 percent herd immunity. "And that's the best-case scenario," Frieden wrote in a <em>Washington Post</em> op-ed. "The number of deaths to get there could be twice as high."</p><p>Frieden said that is the best-case scenario because no one really knows if the <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/herd-immunity-and-coronavirus/art-20486808" target="_blank">actual percentage needed</a> to see the virus peter out is to have it <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/521834-covid-19-vaccine-barriers-efficacy-availability-and-acceptability" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">infect</a> more like <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/08/31/herd-immunity-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">65, 70,</a> or even <a href="https://www.vox.com/21451282/herd-immunity-explained-covid-19-pandemic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">75 percent</a> of the population. Even if immunity could be miraculously achieved at 50 percent, an estimate <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41577-020-00451-5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">published</a> in <em>Nature Reviews Immunology</em> places the range of sacrifice somewhere between 500,000 and 2.1 million deaths.</p><p>That makes it little wonder that Anthony Fauci, the most respected scientist advising the Trump administration on the pandemic, called herd immunity for the coronavirus "total nonsense." Fauci is backed up by the likes of National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who said herd immunity is a "dangerous" and "fringe" component of epidemiology. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Health <a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/10/20/nation/scores-mass-scientists-doctors-sign-open-letter-against-herd-immunity-proposal/?outputType=amp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called</a> herd immunity "junk science."</p><p>The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, <a href="https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---12-october-2020" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said this month</a> that the only acceptable form of "herd immunity" is achieved through vaccination. "Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it," the secretary general said. "Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic... Allowing a dangerous virus that we don't fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It's not an option."</p>
Herd Immunity Is the National De Facto Strategy<p>Somehow, none of that has culled herd immunity from being considered as a legitimate approach for fighting COVID-19. Rather, the Great Barrington Declaration has much in common with the Trump administration's approach to the coronavirus, which has led to more people dying from COVID-19 in the United States than in any other nation on Earth.</p><p>A de facto herd immunity approach is the only thing that can explain the push by governors of so many states to <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/the-push-to-relax-covid-19-protections-exposes-age-old-racial-wounds" target="_blank">reopen</a> bars, restaurants, beaches, bowling alleys, and gyms in states even as the virus has raged and case numbers have been increasing. It is the only thing that can explain the federal designation of meatpackers as essential workers and state demands that teachers go back into classrooms despite outbreaks and deaths related to those professions.</p><p>It also explains how so many of the nation's most respected scientific voices have been silenced. Despite the virus's current "uncontrolled spread" in 34 states and Puerto Rico, according to October 21 <a href="https://www.covidexitstrategy.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tracking</a> by CovidExistStrategy.org, the White House has pushed aside Fauci, Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.</p><p>In their place, the administration has handed the pandemic podium to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-den-of-dissent-inside-the-white-house-task-force-as-coronavirus-surges/2020/10/19/7ff8ee6a-0a6e-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_to_your_health&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_tyh&wpmk=1&pwapi_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJjb29raWVuYW1lIjoid3BfY3J0aWQiLCJpc3MiOiJDYXJ0YSIsImNvb2tpZXZhbHVlIjoiNWE1ZDQ3N2M5YmJjMGYyNmNiMTViMmI0IiwidGFnIjoiNWY4ZGZhZmQ5ZDJmZGEwZWZiNGViMzQyIiwidXJsIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL3BvbGl0aWNzL3RydW1wcy1kZW4tb2YtZGlzc2VudC1pbnNpZGUtdGhlLXdoaXRlLWhvdXNlLXRhc2stZm9yY2UtYXMtY29yb25hdmlydXMtc3VyZ2VzLzIwMjAvMTAvMTkvN2ZmOGVlNmEtMGE2ZS0xMWViLTg1OWItZjljMjdhYmU2MzhkX3N0b3J5Lmh0bWw_dXRtX2NhbXBhaWduPXdwX3RvX3lvdXJfaGVhbHRoJnV0bV9tZWRpdW09ZW1haWwmdXRtX3NvdXJjZT1uZXdzbGV0dGVyJndwaXNyYz1ubF90eWgmd3Btaz0xIn0.MyoXrwQD-PwWqdbb70_JfrI_fxHO0be_O_tpTTMXBgE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Scott Atlas</a>, a radiologist and conservative pundit with <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/public-wants-science-based-policies-for-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no background</a> in infectious disease science or epidemiology in measuring disease prevalence. Inhumanely ignoring the more than half of U.S. adults having a pre-existing condition that could compromise them for COVID-19, he blithely praises herd immunity, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/public-wants-science-based-policies-for-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">saying,</a> "We can allow a lot of people to get infected. Those who are not at risk to die or have a serious hospital-requiring illness, we should be fine with letting them get infected."</p><p>He <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/521688-birx-confronted-pence-about-atlas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pooh-poohs</a> expanded testing, saying, "you are destroying the workforce." Twitter recently took down one of Atlas's tweets for falsely claiming, "Masks work? NO" and then lying that the WHO says widespread mask use is "not supported." The first sentence of the WHO's <a href="https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">webpage</a> on masks says, "Masks are a key measure to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and save lives."</p><p>Atlas denies that the White House has a "wide-open strategy of achieving herd immunity." But there's little doubt that the White House is wide open to the idea. Last week, Atlas <a href="https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/trump-adviser-calls-nbc-town-hall-brazen-display-of-media-duplicity" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appeared</a> on Fox News <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-touts-document-calling-for-herd-immunity-approach-to-covid-19-crisis-11603051550" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to say</a> the thrust of the Great Barrington Declaration "is exactly aligned with the president." That was seconded by a senior administration official who <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/covid-herd-immunity/2020/10/10/3910251c-0a60-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> in a conference call that the Great Barrington Declaration "is endorsing what the president's policy has been for months."</p><p>The freezing out of scientists on the Coronavirus Task Force reached deep space levels this week (a metaphoric minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit), with multiple buckets of ice dumped on Fauci. Atlas diminished Fauci as "just one person" on the force, offering only a "limited approach." President Trump called Fauci a "disaster," <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-fauci-campaign-biden/2020/10/19/30b2fe58-1226-11eb-82af-864652063d61_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claiming,</a> "People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong."</p>
Many Thousands of Lives Can Still Be Saved<p>Atlas's malpractice already merits his dismissal. He should be forced to step down because his disregard for science will surely lead to incalculable disaster if a herd immunity approach becomes official government policy. Calls for his ouster have already begun even from inside the task force. <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-den-of-dissent-inside-the-white-house-task-force-as-coronavirus-surges/2020/10/19/7ff8ee6a-0a6e-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html" target="_blank">According</a> to the <em>Washington Post</em>, Birx went to Vice President Mike Pence to suggest removing Atlas. All Pence reportedly did was ask Birx and Atlas to work out their problems on their own.</p><p>There is no time left for such discord within the task force and for discordant messages to come from the White House on how people should protect themselves from COVID-19. The thousands of scientists and public health professionals who signed the John Snow Memorandum say "it is critical to act decisively and urgently," to launch a "robust" response on the level of New Zealand, Vietnam, or Japan—all of which have shown success in containing the virus and keeping the numbers of cases and deaths relatively low.</p><p>The approach that has been proven effective starts with face coverings and social distancing and reducing the temptation we all will feel during the oncoming winter holidays to have extended family gatherings. Researchers from MIT and the Vancouver School of Economics <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.27.20115139v6.full.pdf" target="_blank">estimate</a> in a working paper that, if the United States had established a national mask mandate in mid-March, between 19,000 and 47,000 lives could have been saved by the end of May. Now that the nation's death toll approaches a quarter million lives lost, and is <a href="https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america?view=total-deaths&tab=trend" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">projected</a> to reach nearly 400,000 by February 1, according to the Institutes for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the institute estimates we could avoid 74,000 new deaths with universal mask use.</p><p>Importantly, masks protect others, including the most vulnerable among us. This week, the <em>Washington Post</em> reported how coronavirus outbreaks among college students partying in unmasked packs in LaCrosse, Wisconsin was found to have <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/21/la-crosse-wisconsin-covid-outbreak-nursing-home-deaths/?utm_campaign=wp_to_your_health&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_tyh&wpmk=1&pwapi_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJjb29raWVuYW1lIjoid3BfY3J0aWQiLCJpc3MiOiJDYXJ0YSIsImNvb2tpZXZhbHVlIjoiNWE1ZDQ3N2M5YmJjMGYyNmNiMTViMmI0IiwidGFnIjoiNWY5MWU3YjU5ZDJmZGEwZWZiNTE3OGNmIiwidXJsIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL2hlYWx0aC8yMDIwLzEwLzIxL2xhLWNyb3NzZS13aXNjb25zaW4tY292aWQtb3V0YnJlYWstbnVyc2luZy1ob21lLWRlYXRocy8_dXRtX2NhbXBhaWduPXdwX3RvX3lvdXJfaGVhbHRoJnV0bV9tZWRpdW09ZW1haWwmdXRtX3NvdXJjZT1uZXdzbGV0dGVyJndwaXNyYz1ubF90eWgmd3Btaz0xIn0.6Ep-AvkJkNqGTE08UsekVlNWR01vYzQe-qg5BPruSQM" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led to 19 deaths so far of people over the age of 60</a>. Before that, the city had gone without a single pandemic death in its nursing homes.</p><p>That is on the heels of the wedding in Millinocket, Maine that resulted in an outbreak that <a href="https://bangordailynews.com/2020/09/19/news/eight-deaths-now-tied-to-millinocket-area-wedding-outbreak-including-seven-at-nursing-home/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">killed eight elderly people</a>, none of whom attended the event, and the 500,000-person Sturgis, South Dakota motorcycle rally that is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/17/sturgis-rally-spread/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">now tied</a> to the massive coronavirus outbreak in the Upper Midwest and Mountain States. The Germain IZA Institute of Labor Economics estimates that the illness generated from the rally <a href="https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/13670/the-contagion-externality-of-a-superspreading-event-the-sturgis-motorcycle-rally-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">will cost</a> the nation $12.2 billion in health care costs.</p><p>Atlas and the proponents of the Great Barrington Declaration have not yet said why this is just fine. That is why they must be unmasked for the charlatans that they are.</p>
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