COVID-19 contracted our environmental footprint by three weeks: Earth Overshoot Day 2020

When you think about global pandemics and environmental catastrophes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged.

Dr. Jennie Moore
Dr. Jennie Moore urges true sustainability that allows all to thrive on Earth should be achieved by design, not disaster.

But Dr. Jennie Moore is both optimistic  — albeit cautiously — and practical when discussing the impacts of COVID-19 and the health of the planet.

“How do we pivot now, and make sure we don’t recreate mistakes that put us back on an unsustainable trajectory?” says Jennie, Director of Institute Sustainability at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

It’s clear the pandemic has shifted people’s behaviours, and lifestyles.

Headlines have touted COVID-19 as nature’s chance to hit the reset button. There’s been images of clear skies over large cities typically heavy with smog, and let’s not forget those dolphins swimming in canals in Italy.

People haven’t been stuck in their cars for lengthy commutes. Social media is full of images of sourdough loaves baked at home and tomato plants growing in window boxes — as well as views from close-to-home hikes and BC-based staycations.

So it’s no surprise environmentalists, like Jennie, have been anticipating this year’s Earth Overshoot Day.

It’s the annual tipping point when the demand for the planet’s ecological resources and services exceeds what it can generate each year.

This year’s Earth Overshoot Day lands on Saturday, August 22.

It’s more than a three-week improvement from last year’s July 29 date, the worse recorded since 1970.

And according to the Global Footprint Network who calculates and hosts Earth Overshoot Day, this year’s pushed-back date is directly related to the pandemic: “The novel coronavirus has caused humanity’s footprint to contract,” it says. “However true sustainability that allows all to thrive on Earth can only be achieved by design, not disaster.”

Jennie says she’d like to see changes made so we can do even better than three weeks.

“The whole world was on lockdown for two months, and this was all we got?” asks Jennie.

“But imagine what a new normal could be for us as we bounce forward in a new trajectory? It might be three months. It might get to six or seven months in a few more years.”

This is the time to intercede, says Jennie.

“As we start investing in recovery, and as we start opening again, how do we harness the lessons of what we’ve achieved?” Jennie asks.

“Here’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to ‘bounce forward’ into a new normal that can shoot us way ahead of where we would have otherwise been around sustainability and sustainable lifestyle choices.”

For instance, Jennie points to BCIT’s response.

The school remained open throughout the pandemic but pivoted when needed for the health and safety of staff and students.

These changes have impacted the environment, says Jennie. She reports there’s been about a 25% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with reduced energy use in buildings on campus. Online forms and instruction reduce paper consumption, she notes. While working from home has reduced emissions from commuting.

It all adds up, she says.

“We could probably surprise ourselves in terms of where we go — not only in terms of hanging on to that three-weeks savings that we’ve got — but we can change the direction of where we go in the future,” she says.

Change behaviour, she says, and it changes your mindset.

Tips to help keep pushing Earth Overshoot Day further and further back

Here’s a few simple and easy tips for things you can do to help ‘bounce forward’ and keep pushing Earth Overshoot Day further and further back.

  • Diet: If you’re not a vegetarian, try a plant-based menu a few days a week. It’s good for you and the planet.
    • Not ready to go full veggie: explore cutting meat portions by half or choosing white proteins such as chicken or pork instead of beef.
  • Buy local: support local food producers, merchants, and service providers.
  • At-home office: Remember to power down your office by turning off your computer and unplugging things you don’t need daily.
  • Beat the heat: use blinds or curtains with an open window to keep rooms cool and naturally ventilated
  • Eat-in: Making your own meals reduces take-out packaging and waste.
  • Polish off your green thumb: Growing your own veggies is good for your health, and your wallet!
  • Lace up: Go for a walk outside for a feel-good form of transportation that is eco-friendly and stress-reducing.
  • Pedal power: For longer trips try out the many new dedicated cycling lanes that create a cycling network around town
  • Cool off: enjoy tepid showers and wash clothes in cold water to avoid save energy

About Dr. Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore, BCIT Director of Institute Sustainability, is a groundbreaking urban ecologist, planner, and leader in the advancement of sustainable cities and lifestyles. She leads the BCIT Ecocity Centre of Excellence to advance applied research, training, policies, and guidance in support of cities, in Canada and around the world, in becoming ecologically sustainable. Prior to joining BCIT, Jennie was Metro Vancouver‘s first Air Quality Planner in charge of climate action and strategic initiatives that inspired the creation of the Sustainable Region Initiative.

(Written by Chantal Eustace)

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