INTERVIEW WITH David Lin
(Research director at the Global Footprint Network)
“HOW TO MOVE BACK THE OVERSHOOT DAY"
Is Climate Change an anthropogenic phenomenon? There are a lot of scientific data that prove it. But there is still a debate on that going on. However, today one fact is undeniable: we, the humankind, use too much natural resources! Our economic and societal model aims at improving our material wellbeing, without giving the needed importance to the efficiency Earth’s natural resources are used. This fact has very well been studied, proved, and communicated by the Global Footprint Network (GFN). The organization (founded by Mathis Wackernagel) provides us with two interesting figures: 1) the Ecological Footprint (the amount of hectares we use to satisfy our need) and 2) Earth Overshoot Day (the date on which we have used all the resources planet Earth can renew this year, so, to satisfy our next needs we will damage Planet Earth by eating into Earth’s stock of resources). According to the GFN, this year the Overshoot Day fell on 2nd August. What is the Overshoot Day? How does the “#movethedate” campaign work? What is the Ecological Footprint Calculator? How can the Ecological Footprint metric help to improve our lives? David Lin, Research director at the Global Footprint Network, answered these and other questions.
David Lin: David Lin leads Global Footprint Network’s research team, and contributes to the production, development, and improvement of the National Footprint Accounts. He also coordinates Global Footprint Network’s city program. Prior to joining Global Footprint Network, David earned his Ph.D. and worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the Systems Ecology Laboratory at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focused on integrating models of ecosystem function with land cover change analysis in Arctic ecosystems to predict the effects of climate change on greenhouse gas dynamics. David is a native of California and holds a BS in ecology, behavior, and evolution from the University of California, Los Angeles.
INTERVIEW - (June 2017)
Subject: Green Belt Movement initiatives, Climate Change and Women empowering in Kenia
- The total amount of natural resources and services we consume in a year take 1.7 planets to regenerate; in other words, we consume 70% faster than the earth regenerates… Overshoot Day is the day of the year when we’ve consumed a year’s worth of resources, and from our data, it fell on August 2 this year.
- The “#movethedate” campaign is our way to say to the world that we all have a role to play in making humanity sustainable.
- The Footprint calculator has been one of our most popular tools, drawing more than two million users last year, including many students. It’s a great tool for engaging citizens of the world and educating them on the different aspects of sustainability.
- Since the beginning, the core dataset of Global Footprint Network has been the National Footprint Accounts (NFAs). The NFAs are accounts of Ecological Footprint and biocapacity (from 1961 to 2013) for over 200 countries, territories, regions, and the world.
- Similar to GDP, which is a measure of the economic size of a country, the Ecological Footprint is a measure the physical resource demands of a country’s economy, which can be compared to national and global biocapacity.
- Ecological Footprint metrics also have been used by many national governments, including Switzerland, Ecuador, the UAE, France, Germany, the Philippines, Montenegro, and others.
- The biggest thing we can do is create an atmosphere where we work together toward a common vision for humanity.
Question 1: Dear Dr. David Lin, this year the Overshoot Day fell on 2nd August (earlier than last year’s 3rd August). Can you explain to us in simple words what the Overshoot Day is, and why year in year out it is coming earlier and earlier?
The total amount of natural resources and services we consume in a year take 1.7 planets to regenerate; in other words, we consume 70% faster than the earth regenerates. How do we get to this statement? It is actually very simple – we can measure how much humanity consumes (demand) and how much the planet regenerates (supply). On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures how much a given population consumes. On the supply side, we measure the biological productivity of earth, which we call biocapacity. The primary work of our organization is to add up the human consumption, and we compare this to biocapacity.
Comparing to a bank account, you could say that biocapacity is like your annual salary (e.g. How many tons of wood do the Earth’s forests grow every year?) and the Ecological Footprint is like your annual expenses (e.g. How many tons of wood do we harvest?). If you spend your entire salary in half a year, you are overspending and drawing down your bank account, perhaps going into debt with a credit card. You would say you require double your salary to keep up with your spending. Similarly, if we harvest natural resources such as wood twice as fast as it regrows, we will end up with less and less forest. Overshoot Day is the day of the year when we’ve consumed a year’s worth of resources, and from our data, it fell on August 2 this year. (For a valid comparison EOD to last year’s EOD, it is necessary to look at data within a single edition (National Footprint Accounts 2017 Edition) to maintain consistency in data. For detailed explanation, please see
Question 2: It is very interesting, as well as worrying all you said…But I know that, together with analyzing our Ecological Footprint and calculating the Overshoot Day, your organization, Global Footprint Network (GFN), does propose practical solutions to the ecological crises. One of these is, for the very least, pushing the Overshoot Day back through the “#movethedate” campaign. Can you tell us how does it work, and how can we join it?
People can join by visiting our Earth Overshoot Day website (http://www.overshootday.org), where you can calculate your Footprint, explore solutions, and pledge to take action and #movethedate.
This campaign is our way to say to the world that we all have a role to play in making humanity sustainable. Taking a step back, the point is for us all to support a broader vision: We would like to live in a world where all people can live great lives. When we commit to this vision and these goals, we see that decision makers at all levels, from individuals to national governments to corporations, can act on major areas of Footprint impact: food (production and consumption), cities (urban design and policy), population (empower and educate women), and energy (clean, renewable energy). We are also highlighting these four solution areas on Earth Overshoot Day and our new Footprint Calculator at www.footprintcalculator.org.
Question 3: Another tool, the GFN proposes, which can help us improve the quality and the sustainability of our lifestyle is the Ecological Footprint Calculator. Please can you tell us how does it work?
The Footprint calculator has been one of our most popular tools, drawing more than two million users last year, including many students. We just launched a new mobile-friendly version of the calculator this year just in time for Earth Overshoot Day. It’s a great tool for engaging citizens of the world and educating them on the different aspects of sustainability as it relates to their lifestyle. In addition to calculating their own Ecological Footprint, users can determine their personal Earth Overshoot Day with our new calculator. At first glance, it is a simple calculator that asks about lifestyle components like diet, transportation, home and goods. We can all makes choices that support more sustainable types of businesses, products and supply chains; however, our daily operation in life is affected by a combination of our choices plus societal structures. Similar to our #movethedate message, our new calculator raises awareness of how our individual choices to reduce our Ecological Footprint fall into major categories of societal change that can reduce footprints: urban structure, energy production, food, and population.
Question 4: The “#movethedate” campaign and the Ecological Footprint Calculator are addressed to individual citizens. But we know that the GFN produces data at national and global levels. In April 2017 the GFN launched “the Footprint Explorer Platform.” What are the main characteristics of such a Platform? Why did you invest in this Platform?
Since the beginning, the core dataset of Global Footprint Network has been the National Footprint Accounts (NFAs). The NFAs are accounts of Ecological Footprint and biocapacity (from 1961 to 2013) for over 200 countries, territories, regions, and the world. Similar to GDP, which is a measure of the economic size of a country, the Ecological Footprint is a measure the physical resource demands of a country’s economy, which can be compared to national and global biocapacity. The National Footprint Accounts are used by businesses, intergovernmental organizations, governments, and scientists, and we created the “Ecological Footprint Explorer” platform to improve accessibility to the full datasets and make the results easier to visualize and explore.
Question 5: Are there any institutional projects (at a national or local level) which are adopting your metric to become ecologically sustainable? Why should a country take into account its Ecological Footprint?
Our metrics have been and continue to be very popular among the international scientific community as an overarching, quantitative accounting metric for sustainability. Ecological Footprint metrics also have been used by many national governments, including Switzerland, Ecuador, the UAE, France, Germany, the Philippines, Montenegro, and others. In addition, our Footprint metrics are being used by provinces in China, cities in Canada, the state of Nariño in Colombia, and cities in Portugal.
You cannot manage what you do not measure. If you agree that living within the means of one planet is necessary for the betterment of humanity, including future generations, it is painfully obvious that we must account for our Ecological Footprint. It’s really quite straightforward. For example, if my goal is to lose weight, and I have a general understanding of things that could help achieve my goal. I can develop an actionable plan with specific goals (e.g. Improve my diet by eating less of a and more of b, exercise more, etc..). These actions and goals can be further subdivided and optimized ad infinitum (should I eat spinach or broccoli? Wheat or Rice? Lift weights or go running?). At the end of the week, I face reality: I step on the scale and measure my weight. For humanity and sustainability, the comparable measurement is the Ecological Footprint. Countries and cities can similarly create a sustainability plan and then look back at the steps taken to achieve it, such as minimizing our food waste, improving walkability, increasing renewable energy, and conserving critical biodiverse ecosystems. But in the end, are we closer or further to living on one planet? After all, this is the ultimate goal.
Question 6: What about the Ecological Footprint in Italy? Do you have any projects there?
We are in continuing discussions for upcoming projects in Italy, and expect to be doing more in the future. Most recently, we have participated in several projects to assess the Ecological Footprint of different diets and tourism in Italy and the Mediterranean. We also engage with an active community of partner academics at the University of Sienna who continue to publish on the science, methodology, and results of Ecological Footprint accounting.
In general, over the course of the last 5 years, Global Footprint Network’s visibility and engagements in the Mediterranean region have grown and the Ecological Footprint indicator is now being used in official UNEP/MAP processes such as the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD) and the region’s Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Action Plan. See http://www.footprintnetwork.org/2015/10/26/med/
for information on our Mediterranean program.
Question 7: Finally, is the mission to reduce the Ecological Footprint in the hands of the individual citizen, or in those of international, national and local institutions? Can you please give us some tips to lower our own Ecological Footprint?
This is a great question, and to my earlier point, it is in all of our hands as individuals and at institutions of various levels. The biggest thing we can do is create an atmosphere where we work together toward a common vision for humanity. This type of atmosphere is needed to foster a cognitive shift and elevate sustainability to be a priority in all decision-making.
As individuals, our choices have a direct effect, and that effect might be minimal, but carrying forward with the position that sustainability is paramount to our goal will ultimately influence individuals and social norms around us, and more importantly our influence will carry over to the various institutions we are part of, whether these are organizations or governments. As governments, businesses, and organizations transform their thinking to change our societies, making sustainable choices can then become second nature to everyone.
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