July 29, 2021 was Earth Overshoot Day. This marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate that same year. For ensuring a thriving future for our societies, we have to move that date and to this there isn’t one-single magical solution but rather a mosaic of solutions widely implemented, altogether.
Except for the inverted trend seen last year, when Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 22nd and mainly by disasters (due to COVID-19), the Earth Overshoot Day has come earlier and earlier every year, approximately about a month earlier every decade since its first manifestation in 1970s. This is indicative of a growing human demand (for plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels) on the planet’s resources, which is now equivalent to about 1.7 planets worth of resources and ecological services.
Countless solutions exist and this need for many different answers is well represented by the ‘100 days of possibility’ campaign, promoted by Global Footprint Network, offering a solution a day from July 29 to the beginning of the COP26. The idea was to highlight alternatives to the current ways of operating our societies in the days leading up to what was going to be the most important event this year. Many of the solutions collected for the campaign are proof that alternatives are available and could be scaled-up if the political willingness to do so was present. Since the political powers seem to underestimate the climate crisis, it is more important than ever to bring such projects up and give them visibility to as many people as possible.
The way we produce and consume food has a great impact on the environment and a key role in this fight.
As our recent past has shown, about 50% of such human demand on the planet’s resources is due to our food systems, meaning the way in which we produce, transport, distribute, consume and, unfortunately, waste food. Shifting our approach to more sustainable food systems would thus help move the date on which us humans surpass what global resources can sustain in a single year. Here again, there are different ways this can be achieved, such as eating locally, cultivating in a sustainable way (e.g., via agroforestry practices) or reducing food waste.
This is exactly what the Foodnected project aims to achieve.
The short-chain, fair and sustainable food systems we are realizing via the Foodnected Community of Practice is one of the solutions. Practicing an ethical code of environmental and social values, utilizing low-impact production systems, and reconnecting producers and consumers (by reducing the distance between them) helps disrupt the prevailing food market mechanisms. And indeed, a Community of Practices (CoP) connects small-scale food producers and consumers under shared values to facilitate the development of short-chain and sustainable food systems that work for nature and people, starting in the Mediterranean region.
The livestock sector is certainly one of the most important given its contribution to GHGs emissions as well as land and water use, worldwide. It is thus an obvious place to start.
On October 29, the solution was the promotion of beef production methods that focus on integrating cattle with a local mixed landscape, like the smallholder farms of Menorca’s Custòdia Agrària programme, part of the Foodnected programme. These farms take advantage of the heterogeneous landscape (combining arable land with areas of wild vegetation) for agricultural production. The cattle feed partly on wild pasture and walk among wooded areas. This allows for significant amounts of carbon dioxide to be captured. In addition, the type of management practiced does not exhaust biodiversity, but promotes it.
The Ecological Footprint is a tool used to measure how much nature we have, and how much nature we use. Food consumption across the globe contributes to about 26% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. As they work with the local environment and apply beneficial management practices, eating fair and local meat produced in the farms of Custòdia Agrària would help reduce the Footprint of consuming beef by up to 64% compared to beef conventionally produced. Applied worldwide, the production methods of Custòdia Agrària would move the date of Earth Overshoot Day by 5 days.
Such practices foster local development in their territories with new models of governance that involve and hold all local stakeholders accountable with a community-based and participative approach. This encourages small-scale producers to become actors of change for the necessary transition to sustainable and fair food systems. Creativity and networking promote knowledge sharing, collective understanding, and mentorship needed to build a better future, leading to innovation, creativity and social entrepreneurship.
We can all do something to combat climate change and resource overuse, and ultimately postpone Earth Overshoot Day. We can start with becoming aware of our own environmental impact. Want to measure yours here?