The Green Tau: issue 45

Earth Overshoot Day 28th July 2022

Leviticus 25 explains that the land should have a sabbath rest every seventh year. In that year no crops would be sown and the people would live off the surplus of previous years. Farmers over the millennia have learnt that you cannot constantly expect the land to keep on producing crops year on year without fail. The land either needs to lay fallow (rest), or it needs to be sown with a restorative crop such as nitrogen fixing beans or clover, or it needs the input of artificial fertilisers, so that it may recuperate its productivity. It is a lesson we are sometimes reluctant to heed. The Dust Bowl disaster of 1930s in the USA destroyed vast acres of farm land because farming practices did not maintain the fertility of the soil. An equivalent story can be told about the Aral Sea. This inland lake, once the fourth largest area of fresh water in the world,  has been reduced to nothing because more water has been extracted year on year – to irrigate local cotton crops – than the rate at which water flowing in fills the lake.

Ideally what we consume from the natural world – crops, timber, drinking water, clean air, energy – is balanced by the earth’s ability to regenerate. Prior to 1970 that was the case. Since then we have been using up the earth’s renewable resources at a rate faster than they are replenished. Scientists each year calculate that point  when we pass from credit to deficit. This is called Earth Overshoot Day. This year the predicted date is 28th July. Seven months into the year and we have already – globally – consumed as much as the earth can replenish in one year! 

Surely this state of affairs can not continue? What can we do about it and why aren’t we doing it? 

Since 1970, Earth Overshoot Day has been falling earlier and earlier each year. Only in 2020 did it reverse: the reduction in world wide consumption because of Covid gave the earth a three week reprieve. Consuming less has to be the answer which means consuming more carefully and more sustainably. If we could do that in 2020 whilst coping with a pandemic, surely we could do it every year? 

The Earth Overshoot website has details of various ways in which the global community could do this. https://www.overshootday.org/ Meantime we as individuals can make changes to our own lives  and  patterns of consumption. And we can ask or push for our churches, places of work, sports clubs, local authorities, museums, retailers, and government, to make similar reductions in consumption. We need change to happen at all levels.  

28th July is 2022’s Earth Overshoot Day at the global level. That date is the average  of each nation’s own Overshoot Day. These dates range from 20th December for Jamaica (ie Jamaica pretty much balances its books,  consuming only slightly more than it can regenerate in a year) to 10th February for Qatar. The UK’s Overshoot Day  was 19th May. We would need three United Kingdom’s to satisfy our current consumption levels, whereas in reality we rely on other countries to help make up the shortfall.  

Not only should we be addressing the conservation and safe use of resources here in the UK, we should also be offering  support to those other countries on whom we rely to ensure we don’t deplete their resources and rather enable them to develop economies that benefit their own ecosystems. 

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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