Human society under urgent threat: there is a way forward and we can still bend the curve.
A scientific study just released by the UN reveals that one million species are at risk of extinction. The findings are sobering. The report shows a planet in which the human footprint is so large it leaves little space for anything else. The latest planetary health check clearly shows that ecosystems are deteriorating more rapidly than ever before. There is barely any marine area that today is free from human pressure, and industrial fishing takes place in more than half of the world's oceans. Grazing areas for cattle account for about 25 per cent of the world's available land and more than 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Due to deforestation, Indonesia lost 24.4m hectares of tree cover from 2001 to 2017, equivalent to a 15 per cent decrease since 2000. These are just few highlights from the report. The Global Assessment Report is the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken. It serves as a health check for the planet and is compiled by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) from more than 1,500 academic papers and reports from indigenous groups. The study was compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors. It assessed changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the impact of economic development pathways on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming years. It is not the first report that highlights the need for urgent action to protect nature. The Living Planet Report issued by WWF in 2018 indicates that, on average, there has been an astonishing 60 per cent decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians in just over 40 years. The recent IPCC report concluded that we have 12 years to limit a climate change catastrophe. Receiving this type of information can be overwhelming and make us feel powerless – if not doomed. However, we actually can overcome this feeling helped by the fact that the report indicates a way forward and gives hope: "Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change." The report provides clear recommendations for policymakers with a detailed list of possible actions and pathways to achieve transformative change. One may argue: what is my role in this? How can I as an individual be part of the solution? (because it is possible to reverse the damage, restore nature and bend the current trajectory!). One precious source of information to take action (it can be successfully used to influence your family, friends and your community) is represented by the book Drawdown where one hundred of the most substantive solutions to global warming are described. As described on the website: “Drawdown is the work of a prominent and growing community of researchers, climatologists, geologists, engineers, agronomists, biologists, botanists, economists, financial analysts, architects, companies, agencies, NGOs, and other experts who draft, model, fact check, review, and validate all text, inputs, sources, and calculations.” It is an excellent and very solid piece of work and, very importantly, one that gives us solutions and increases our ability to act to fight climate change!
Here we summarise three actions that have a significant impact and are easy to implement:
Reduce food waste
A third of the food raised or prepared globally does not make it from farm or factory to fork, and an estimate of 7.3m tonnes of household food was thrown away in 2015 in the UK according to WRAP. Planning meals, buying less and more frequently can help reduce food waste and therefore the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production and transport. By reducing food waste, you will not only reduce emissions, but you will also save money!
Reduce meat consumption and move to a plant-rich diet
(NOTE: the recommendation is not to stop eating meat and become vegetarian or vegan!)
If cattle were a nation, they would be the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. By cutting meat consumption from 100 grams of meat a day to less than 50 grams a day, the food-related emissions would fall by a third. That would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York.
Move to renewable energy
Wind energy is fundamental to address global warming in the coming three decades. An increase in onshore wind from 3 to 4 per cent of world electricity use to 21.6 per cent by 2050 could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide (the second most significant single contribution in the whole list!). Solar farms and rooftop solar make it to the top ten too, reiterating the importance of a switch to renewable energy. The cost of generating renewable energy has fallen a lot over the last few years so again you may well save hundreds pound a year while halving your carbon footprint.
There is a fourth one that has the highest carbon reduction potential, but we do not mention it here as we invite you to discover it by following the Drawdown website link. You will be surprised!
To read about how to cope with hopelessness over climate change: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/09/i-have-felt-hopelessness-over-climate-change-here-is-how-we-move-past-the-immense-grief
For further reading on food and climate change:
For further reading on wind power and climate change: