Last week, I noted that on July 29 we reached Earth Overshoot Day — the day when humanity’s overall Ecological Footprint (EF) exceeded the Earth’s ability to replenish sufficient biocapacity to meet our demands.
However Canada, with an EF per person equivalent to 4.75 planet’s worth, passed its overshoot day on March 18. This week, I want to focus the issue more locally.
I live in Saanich, the largest municipality in the region. It is one of two local municipalities — Victoria is the other — that has had its EF estimated by Jennie Moore and Cora Hallsworth.
The method they used — based on household expenditure data — gives an EF of 3.3 gigahectares (gha) per person, but this does not include two key components not considered part of household expenditure: Federal and provincial government services and the value of acquisitions of new or existing fixed assets (property, plant and equipment) by the business sector and governments.
Together they add a further 0.87 and 1.08 gha per person, so the total for Saanich is about 5 gha per person. This is roughly three times the Earth’s annual biocapacity, which is 1.7 gha per person, meaning Saanich’s Earth Overshoot Day is on day 122 of the year — May 2. So ever since then, we have been consuming more than our fair share of the Earth’s biocapacity.
Happily, Saanich’s EF is considerably less than the 4.75 Earths for Canada as a whole. This may be because most of our electricity is from hydro and we have a milder climate than much of Canada, so our energy use for heating and cooling is less.
Additionally, we do not have heavy industry here, nor do we extract fossil fuels. In fact, we are more in line with European cities; a study of the Mediterranean region by the Global Footprint Network found the EF of four Italian and two Spanish cities ranged between 3.34 and 4.89 gha per person, or about two or three Earths, while a separate study of three Portuguese cities found the EF falling within a narrower range of 3.76 to 4.08 gha, or about 2.5 Earths per person.
Nonetheless, with an EF of three Earths, we need to reduce our footprint by about 70 per cent, but how do we do this while at the same time maintaining a good quality of life and good health for all who live here?
There are important clues in the data on Saanich’s EF; roughly half is due to food, one-quarter to transportation, one-sixth due to buildings and the remaining one-10th to “consumables.”
If we look at food, almost three-quarters is due to our consumption of animal products, while a similar proportion of transportation is due to private vehicle use and about the same proportion of the building EF is due to the energy used for heating and electricity; for consumables (clothes, electronics and other household goods), almost all of the EF is due to the energy and materials used in their production.
Put simply, we need to shift our diet to be more plant-based; move our transportation to more walking, biking and public transit (and working from home or close to home) and the use of clean-energy vehicles; make our buildings more energy efficient and their energy sources clean and renewable, and buy less stuff, instead re-using and repairing.
In many cases, these changes will also be good for health.
Importantly, while carbon emissions from fossil fuel use are a large part of the EF, there are many other aspects of our EF that need to be addressed, such as pollution, resource depletion and the loss of biodiversity. So all municipalities need to move from a focus primarily on climate action to a more comprehensive One Planet strategy.
Fortunately, not only has the EF of Saanich been measured, it is also the only local municipality that has an initiative underway to address the need to become a “One Planet” community.
It is the only Canadian municipality in an international project run by Bioregional, a non-profit consultancy in the United Kingdom that has been championing the “One Planet” approach for almost 20 years.
Next week, I will discuss the early work of One Planet Saanich.
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.