Earth Overshoot Day: Living far beyond our planet's means

For decades, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) has measured the date at which global consumption of natural resources exceeds the planet’s bio-capacity. This year, Earth Overshoot Day was reached on 1 August; the earliest date ever (see figure 1). GFN’s analysis implies we have used natural resources meant to last a year in a little over half that time.

This analysis is not unique. The picture of a global economy living beyond its environmental means emerges from almost any angle and nowhere more clearly than climate change. We are fast approaching the point where an orderly transition to a low carbon global economy ceases to work mathematically. Indeed, some of the seemingly outlandish or “moonshot” ideas might yet make the move from “madness to mainstream”.


Source: Global footprint network, National footprint accounts 2018

Most of those options fall under the broad heading of “geoengineering”. The term describes large-scale manipulation of environmental processes to affect the earth's climate. While reducing CO2 emissions is still the most efficient way of limiting climate change, escalating greenhouse gas concentration means we may need to focus on changing the atmosphere rather than on damaging it less quickly. Broadly, the techniques can be split into two groups: solar radiation management and CO2 removal. The former refers to any intervention that reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the planet. The latter includes any technology or natural object (trees, rocks, soil) to draw CO2 out of the air.

Existing solutions are diverse. They range from planting trees, setting up man-made technologies to siphon CO2 out of the air, to ships with large pipes shooting aerosol particles into the stratosphere and even space mirrors to reflect sunlight. While the latter might seem implausible on first sight, they might become reality rather sooner than later if drastic and rapid action is needed to tackle global warming. First examples of small-scale geoengineering can be seen in cities such as Los Angeles, which started to cover their streets with white paint to reflect sunlight and hence combat urban warming. Additional unconventional examples of climate change interventions include:

  •  Dumping iron into the ocean: a controversial American businessman dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme
  •  Space mirrors to stop global warming: Lowell Wood of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory proposed a giant space mirror
  •  Houses of the future made from trash: Last year’s trash could become next year’s model home
  •  Solar air planes: Solar Impulse 2, which landed in Abu Dhabi, is the first plane powered by the renewable energy source to tour the globe

These may seem unusual, but current developments indicate that the application of more radical interventions might be required in order to reduce global warming. While not every intervention will carry the expected effects, having a larger set of possible interventions will increase the odds of success – even if brought by unexpected measures.

To read more of Schroders' climate change insights, visit our Sustainability Strategic Capability page or the Climate Progress Dashboard.

The opinions contained herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the house view. This document is intended to be for information purposes only. The material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. The material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, accounting, legal or tax advice, or investment recommendations. Information herein is believed to be reliable but Cazenove Capital does not warrant its completeness or accuracy. No responsibility can be accepted for errors of fact or opinion. This does not exclude or restrict any duty or liability that Cazenove Capital has to its customers under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (as amended from time to time) or any other regulatory system. Cazenove Capital is part of the Schroder Group and a trading name of Schroder & Co. Registered Office at 1 London Wall Place, London EC2Y 5AU. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. For your security, communications may be taped and monitored. 

Contact Cazenove Charities

Achieving your charity's investment objectives takes time and thought. To find out how we can help you please contact:

James Brennan

James Brennan

Portfolio Director