Editorial newsletter September

A Fridays For Future rally in Berlin in the times of COVID-19. Photo by Leonhard Lenz.
‘How will this impact our lives? Or our families and loved ones? Or our jobs? What measures do I/we/the government need to take to prevent worse outcomes? Why is nobody worried?’

These questions seem to be on everybody’s mind nowadays, mostly related to the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. But if you’re reading this newsletter, these questions have probably been worrying you a lot longer with respect to the climate and biodiversity crises. And though the year is only half over, it already has shown us grisly glimpses of what is to come if countermeasures are not ramped up.

2020 started with horrific bushfires in Australia, killing dozens of people, millions of animals and destroying thousands of square kilometers of unique habitat. At the time we were already getting some news out of China about a new coronavirus and its potential impact. But it wasn’t until SARS-CoV-2 quickly travelled around the world and impacted all our lives in ways unimaginable only a year earlier, that the danger of pandemics was enforced on us. As humanity increasingly encroaches on natural habitats and comes into contact with new viruses, such pandemics may occur more and more frequently. And while CO2 emissions dropped because of grounded airplanes, reduced traffic and diminished industrial activities, the amount of plastic waste due to disposable masks and other personal protection equipment rose exponentially, creating its own set of problems. 

We started our summer holidays as one of the driest summers on record and many heat records were broken in August. Average temperatures in de Bilt were 3 degrees above the average. Farther away from home, the Greenland ice sheet melt has passed its point of no return… Currently, California is engulfed in fires and meteorologists are predicting the worst hurricane season on record. While not all of these are directly linked to a warming earth, extreme weather events are getting more and more likely. 

But if the current situation has shown us anything, it is that governments and societies can adjust their routines rapidly. Indeed, the way we live and work already seems to be changing enduringly in response, with more and more companies reconsidering their flying habits and people wanting to remain working from home at least part-time. Humanity is flexible, and now is the time to harness this flexibility and make lasting changes to fix the growing climate and ecological crises.

Just before the start of the academic year, on August 22nd, we ‘celebrated’ Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. This was the same date as in 2012 and almost three weeks later than last year, when it fell on July 29th. While this is a hopeful sign that we can turn the tide on both the climate as well as ecological crises, we need to keep up the pressure to actually sustain these changes. To use Mathis Wackernagel’s words, we need to push back the Earth Overshoot date by design, not by disaster.

S4F Team Utrecht