Happy Earth Overshoot Day!
Well, actually, it’s not a holiday. Today, August 2nd 2017, we have used up this year’s biocapacity on Earth – that is, the ecological resources the planet is able to regenerate within a year. All the resources we use from now onward are, in theory, putting us in debt to the planet. And we are seriously overdrawing our account at this point.
Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by the Global Footprint Network to draw attention to our resource use. Their website also gives you the possibility to calculate your own ecological footprint by inputting whether you own a car, how big your house is, what kinds of food you eat and how far you travel to go on holidays. Personally, the last point always brings my footprint way over my theoretical biocapacity – one long-haul flight and you are basically already beyond the mark.
This year is a big travel year in general for me, holiday and work-wise, so I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I tried to make small adjustments when possible – I went to Budapest by train (12 hours each way) and to Paris by bus (not recommendable, at least not over night) in order to at least stop flying within Continental Europe. In the Fall, I am going to a big conference on the U.S. West Coast though, and it’s really a bit ridiculous, but also a great career opportunity.
I wish there were more opportunities to present your (academic) work without having to travel so much. Indeed, there are others out there that feel the same, and have (under leadership of Parke Wilde from Tufts University) launched a petition to encourage Flying Less and lowering academia’s carbon footprint. The FAQ document is really insightful and a good read. Amongst other great points, it refers to this article where a climate scientist stopped flying and saw a rapid improvement in his carbon footprint:
The FAQ argues:
For an academic professional who eats comparatively little meat, commutes by public transportation, sets the home thermostat at a reasonable temperature, and drives a fuel-efficient car, unrestrained flying behavior easily may be responsible for a large fraction of his or her total climate change impact.
This is exactly the case for me, and I wonder how to improve while trying to lead a life on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilde notes that he hasn’t flown since 2014, and there are other academics that do the same – one UK climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, made waves when he travelled by train to a conference in China. So of course it can be done. But in a discipline (Political Science) that is still largely shaped by North American scholars, that is relatively competitive and where positions are far and few between, where should a young Europe-based scholar draw the line?
That, at least, is the question I ponder as Earth Overshoot Day is coming to a close. [Edited to add: I had similar thoughts 2 years ago when I went to Iceland for a conference. Some things never change…]
What are your most difficult categories to improve in order to reduce your global footprint?
Parke Wilde’s own blog is always extremely interesting (he is a Food Policy professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School for Food and Nutrition Policy)
Even better: the International Space Station installed HD cameras on its outside and is live-streaming the view (welcome to 2017). PSA from them: “Don’t worry if the screen is all black- this just means that you are viewing Earth’s night side. The ISS orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes so you shouldn’t have to wait long to get the spectacular view you’re hoping for.” How cool is that?