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Earth Overshoot Day is the day of the year when humanity has used more ecological resources than the Earth can naturally regenerate over an entire year, according to calculations by York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative.
In 2021, it falls on Thursday, July 29—nothing to celebrate, especially considering that last year’s Earth Overshoot Day was a whopping three weeks later, on August 22. Our global carbon footprint has increased up to 6.6% compared to 2020, proving that emissions reductions from the pandemic were temporary.
Laurel Hanscom, the CEO of the non-profit that popularized Earth Overshoot Day, tells mbg that she hopes we can push back the date “by design rather than disaster” moving forward. Since carbon emissions make up the majority of our ecological footprint, those will require the most attention. “The best thing we can do is reduce emissions and preserve the natural carbon sinks that exist on the planet,” Hanscom says of how we can push this bleak occasion back.
A recent report by the International Energy Agency adds that in order to get to net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid further climate disaster, we’ll also have to start pulling carbon from the atmosphere more proactively. While companies around the world are working to manufacture their own carbon sinks (areas that absorb more carbon than they release) using new technologies, Hanscom says it’s not currently happening at a scale that would impact the timing of Earth Overshoot Day.
Clearly, reducing our emissions, protecting the planet’s natural ability to absorb carbon, and creating new technologies that can help us do both will take work—but plenty of innovators are up for the challenge.
Today, we’re spotlighting a few of the organizations working to help push Earth Overshoot Day back on our calendars in years to come. From a big-name brand capturing carbon to make perfume to a grassroots non-profit protecting Indigenous land rights, they prove there’s no one way to make a difference. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a reminder of all the potential solutions out there and how to help lift them up.
Forests are one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, and Indigenous communities are some of their most ardent protectors. (Though they manage less than 25% of the world’s land surface, Indigenous peoples support about 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.)
Amazon Frontlines is one non-profit working with Indigenous communities in the Amazon to protect existing carbon-sucking forests, create new ones, and preserve culture in the region.
How to support: Donate to fund their work.
Reykjavik, Iceland-based Carbfix seeks to emulate the way that carbon is naturally stored in our environment—but at a quicker pace. In nature, carbon from the atmosphere is turned into a more stable underground form over the course of millions of years. Carbfix has developed a technology that funnels it into basalt rock within just two years.
The company currently retrieves its carbon from geothermal power plant exhaust in the area as well as directly from the air. This approach to carbon storage is usually inordinately expensive, so Carbfix is now working to expand across new power sectors and make their service more cost-effective at scale.
How to support: Follow the emerging research on carbon storage solutions.
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The 2030 Calculator seeks to reduce the retail sector’s carbon emissions by making it easier to calculate the carbon footprint of everyday products.
Fresh off a win at the Cannes Lions festival award in the Sustainable Development Goals category, the user-friendly calculator was chosen for its creativity and potential impact. It pulls from a well of data on energy use, distribution, and packaging to assign products a carbon “score” that can be share with potential customers. This type of lifestyle analysis is usually pricey and time-consuming, meaning only larger, more established companies have had access to it in the past.
By democratizing the process, the 2030 Calculator team hopes to provide an onramp for smaller brands. “A lot of small and medium-sized brands are actually the ones who will challenge the bigger brands to create lower-impact products,” Mathias Wikström, the co-founder of the calculator’s parent company, Doconomy, tells mbg. By making this information more accessible, they hope to inspire more brands to publicize their products’ carbon scores for consumers to compare and contrast. “The most important part here is to make it understandable and comparable,” adds co-founder Johan Pihl.
How to support: Ask your favorite brands to calculate and share their product’s 2030 Calculator carbon score.
Capturing carbon is super expensive, but one potential way to fund it would be to turn the carbon into stuff people actually want to buy. LanzaTech is one company exploring all the ways we can reimagine carbon as a usable product.
How to support: Vote with your dollar and buy these carbon capture products once they hit the market.
People can use the carbon marketplace Nori to help finance environmentally friendly land management. Nori works with a growing network of farmers who are using regenerative agricultural practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. They then helped them quantify these practices using validated carbon removal credits. From there, individuals and businesses can buy these credits to directly fund this nature-based carbon capture. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is democratize this and make it much simpler and easier for people to access,” Paul Gambill, Nori’s CEO, previously told mbg.
How to support: Buy carbon removals from Nori’s platform.
Carbon emissions aren’t just bad for the planet; they put human health at risk too—and disproportionately affect low-income and BIPOC communities. NYC-based startup BlocPower is working to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to take part in the push away from carbon—not just wealthy white folks.
The company partners with buildings in disadvantaged communities across the city to replace old heating, cooling, and hot water systems with energy-efficient retrofits. In the process, they’re making cleaner, healthier buildings for all—and creating jobs in the process.
How to support: Invest or partner with BlocPower to help them expand.
Talk about creating beauty out of thin air: Aether Diamonds turns carbon pollution into diamond jewelry. Their direct-capture technology pulls carbon pollution from the air and turns it into the raw material for lab-grown diamonds that are chemically identical to mined stones. While diamonds alone won’t solve our emissions crisis, they might make consumers see their jewelry in a new light. The finished pieces cost a pretty penny, but it’s the price you pay for innovation.
How to support: Buy an Aether piece for yourself or a loved one.
Just like forests and soil, our oceans have the power to draw lots of carbon from the atmosphere, thanks in part to sea plants like kelp and algae.
GreenWave is one non-profit looking to build up seaweed farming both as a climate solution and a healthy way to feed a growing population. (Seaweed is a great source of vitamins, minerals, protein, and gut-healthy bacteria.) “Seaweed is this incredible technology of Mother Nature that can feed the planet but also restore our seas in the climate crisis,” founder Bren Smith previously told mbg.
How to support: Support seaweed farmers by buying their products, which now come in lots of tasty forms.