Sustainability Blog

It’s a Wonderful World – The Season for Climate Numerology
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It’s a Wonderful World – The Season for Climate Numerology

By Apurva Gosalia - Dec 20, 2021

Fifty years ago today, on Dec. 20, 1971, was the first measurable Earth Overshoot Day. It was not only a Monday like today, but the day on which humanity’s demand for resources conspicuously exceeded what the planet could replenish in that year. Over the past half century, that day has moved five months to July 29 this year, or in short: “Five in Fifty”!

All is not lost. Last year showed us that we can proactively influence Earth Overshoot Day. It pushed to August 22, almost a month later than in 2019 and 2021, reflecting the initial drop in resource use due to pandemic lockdowns.

Even though this brief tip of the scales back toward equilibrium was unintentional and temporary, it shows us that it is possible in the future to push forward the cut-off again, this time not by corona but by courage of our actions.

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When we review 2021 from a climate action perspective, I think there are good reasons for hope that messages have been understood and measures will be undertaken. To that end, there have been some promising coalitions, clarifications and commitments in 2021 that make such actions possible: the new German Coalition Agreement; the SBTi’s launch of the world’s first net-zero corporate standard; and the COP26 summit.

At COP26, more than 140 countries pledged to reach net-zero emissions – most of them in the next 30years from now by around 2050, or in short: “Zero Mark Thirty”!

This recalls the title of the 2012 thriller “Zero Dark Thirty,” which alludes to U.S. military slang for an unspecified time before daybreak. Similarly, the carbon-neutrality targets of some countries and companies are also still vague and not precisely specified, while other countries are hitting the 2050 mark earlier or later, such as Germany by 2045 or China by 2060.

The number 30 also connects to 2030, which marks the target year for the European Union to reduce the bloc’s net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared with 1990 levels. The European Commission presented this so-called “Fit for 55” package in 2021, which lays out a series of revisions and initiatives linked to the European Green Deal’s climate actions. The package also aims to bring EU legislation in line with UN Global Goals of 2030 (a.k.a. the 17 SDGs), so let’s get “Fit for Fifty-Five”!

Today’s is also the day 75 years ago when the Christmas classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” premiered in New York, which still ranks as then most inspirational American film of all time. This perennial favorite tells the story of George Bailey, a man who has sacrificed his personal ambitions in order to help his community. Yet in a moment of despair on Christmas Eve, he attempts suicide but is stopped by his guardian angel. The angel shows him how different life would have been for those who benefitted from his help if he had not been born, renewing George’s faith in humanity.

As Larry A. Nielsen, professor of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, puts it: 

“The movie reminds me of why I am an optimist – an optimist in general and an environmental optimist specifically. We might despair over some environmental loss in the news – an oil spill, reversal of pollution regulations, the listing of a new endangered species – just like George Bailey. But, also like George Bailey, if we look a little deeper and broader, we can see an amazing and wonderful world behind the headlines. By putting our hands on the earth and shaping it with care, respect and love, we can nurture a better, fairer, more sustainable world. George Bailey said, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I say ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ on December 20 and every other day of the year.”

Happy holidays and STAY SuSTAYnable in 2022!

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