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Earth Overshoot Day: “All countries live on credit”


Interview

Status: 07/28/2022 09:15 a.m

Year after year, humanity consumes more natural resources than the earth can replenish. Landscape ecologist Ralf Seppelt explains what today’s Earth Overshoot Day says – and how resource conservation can look like.

tagesschau24: What is Earth Overshoot Day?

Ralf Seppelt: The earth produces a whole range of resources – food, clean water, air we breathe, building materials – things we live on. They are generated naturally – i.e. supplied by ecosystems. And if it happens that we consume more than the earth can “replenish”, then we live on credit. And if you add up and add up the consumption globally, then that is the case today.

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To person

Ralf Seppelt heads the Department of Landscape Ecology at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig. He is Professor of Applied Landscape Ecology at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg.

What resources are consumed

tagesschau24: What resources are we talking about?

Garland: When you use the word, you might first think of energy, of building materials. But much more important are the renewable resources – everything that comes from the field, what is food, products that come from animals and that we get from the forest. So all the foods that we are based on, so to speak.

tagesschau24: This overload for 2022 is reached today, July 28th. What does this point in time tell us?

Garland: In fact, this time series and this analysis by the institute have been around for 50-60 years. In 1961, this “Earth Overshoot Day” was actually still in the following year – that is, by December 31st, humanity as a whole had only just used 75 percent of the resources for the year. And in 1970 the balance sheet turned out to be exactly as of December 31st. had this “Earth Overshoot Day”. And today it’s already half a year earlier, at the end of July.

A success story – and its price

tagesschau24: How did this happen?

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Garland: Science calls this “the great acceleration”: Within the last 40 or 50 years, humanity has actually had a success story behind it. We have achieved many things, child mortality has decreased, education has improved. We have produced vast amounts of food. In fact, over the past 40 years, food production has grown faster than the world’s population. It’s actually a great success story.

But this has happened at the expense of the earth – and what has fueled all this, of course, is fossil fuels. So a lot of high-density energy in the form of oil, coal, gas, and in the past, of course, also wood, which we used to do work with and ultimately created free time to do other things – to develop ourselves culturally, to be healthy promote and promote education. In itself a very positive thing – but as I said, driven by exactly the things that are so painfully falling on our feet now in the context of climate change.

“We live on credit”, landscape ecologist Ralf Seppelt, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research Leipzig, on Earth Overshoot Day 2022

tagesschau24 09:00 a.m., 28.7.2022

Extreme regional differences

tagesschau24: Does that also mean that the “Earth Overshoot Day” is distributed extremely unevenly locally – that countries like Germany, which consume a lot of energy, reach it earlier than countries on the African continent?

Garland: That is absolutely correct, although if you break it down to individual countries, we must of course relate what the potential of a country is that it can produce itself, what it can live on versus what is brought in through trade and other exchanges becomes. In this respect, it is completely obvious that countries such as Qatar, which have high consumption and energy consumption but are not well equipped in terms of their environmental conditions, already have this “Earth Overshoot Day” in February.

In Qatar it was on February 9th this year … For comparison: In Germany it is in May, and countries that produce a lot of food and also do not consume as much food as, for example, Ecuador or Indonesia have their “Earth Overshoot Day” in December. But: All countries live on credit.

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The limits of the planet

tagesschau24: In a climate initiative, the Helmholtz Research Foundation analyzed the areas in which we are particularly poorly positioned. Where have we lived particularly far beyond our means?

Garland: This analysis of the planetary boundaries attempts to make clear where the crunch is everywhere. You look at things like new substances in the environment, plastic in the environment, how the water is available – for water as drinking water, but also as irrigation water. It looks at what the climate limits are, how far they are adhered to, how the functionality of ecosystems and the diversity of species is.

Of course, all of these variables are also related to each other: Some act as levers, as drivers, where changes can be brought about. And others are endpoints that show: we actually have to do something there.

At this point, of course, climate change, high CO2 emissions and also the increasingly accelerated and unchecked loss of biodiversity are the two most important drivers that also interact. Everything I do, whatever measures and opportunities we have to slow down climate change, can also be positive for biodiversity conservation – and vice versa.

Two years ago, the World Biodiversity Council determined that the main driver for the loss of biodiversity and ultimately also for climate change is the increasingly excessive use of resources. The unequally distributed resources that are there must continue to grow in order to meet demand.

An example from food production: Humans worldwide produce 5000 kilocalories per person per day to ensure our nutrition. Anyone who may have seen one or the other nutritional table knows: That’s twice as much as you actually need on average, maybe even more.

But it is also very unequally distributed: America consumes 8000 kilocalories of resources per day and person. In developing countries, that’s less than a quarter. In this respect it is a distribution problem – and that against the background that we actually produce enough food to feed everyone. And yet today there are still 200 million children who are undernourished or malnourished. It’s a distribution problem.

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If we look at it the other way round: When was “Earth Overshoot Day” on December 31st? Then that was for Germany sometime in the 1960s. And now you can think about it: How did we live in Germany back then? Of course, that sounds very painful when you say: Oh God, we have to go back there now. But it’s at least food for thought to say what the solution could be – which might be enough.

“A question of social cohesion”

tagesschau24: What would we gain if we conserved our world’s resources more?

Garland: I believe that we have to put on “social glasses” at this point in order to answer the question or at least give an idea for it – this is not a scientific question, but one of social cohesion.

If we look at these long periods of time, the past 10,000 years, that the human being has existed on the planet in more or less present form, then that doesn’t give us the answer. The next ten, 50, maybe 100 years will provide us with the answer.

And the most important point is social cohesion – the agreement on an idea and on a goal that we have to make do with these resources together and then we can also enjoy that it works. That this is not a renunciation in that sense, but rather moves the community forward and we can be satisfied that we are doing very, very well, that we are excellently trained and maybe we should take two steps back – take a deep breath and see what we can do is really important in our life.

The conversation was led by Anja Martini, tagesschau.

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