I don’t know about you but I’ve never heard the terms and expressions ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainability’, ‘climate change mitigation’ and ‘environmental footprint’ as much as right now. The environment is a trendy topic that’s being discussed everywhere, from global summits to mainstream media and family dinners, yet it has never faced greater challenges. Temperatures are rising, biodiversity is plummeting and oceans are dying, affecting vulnerable communities that depend on natural resources to survive. But not all is gloom and doom on Planet Earth! The focus may be on the negative but there are some reasons to hope.
1. A reduction of green house gas emissions
We know that green house gas emissions, mainly CO2 and methane caused by human activities is the main cause of global warming and climate change. Compared to pre-industrial times, concentrations of CO2 are now 145% higher and the global methane levels have increased by a factor of 2.5 causing the anticipated rise of global temperatures by over two degrees. The last three years have been the hottest ever recorded.
At the same time, there has never been more initiatives coming from the private sector. Companies are gathering in coalitions, pledges, working groups and joining forces with NGOs and research institutes to develop and implement methodologies to reduce their green house gas emissions. The Science Based Targets for instance, works with companies to set ambitious emissions reduction targets in line with climate science which are then closely reviewed by a team of experts who only approve those that meet strict criteria. To date, 339 companies are taking action with 89 having approved science-based targets including multinationals such as Danone, Coca Cola, Marks & Spencer and Procter & Gamble.
It’s not just corporations making drastic changes either. China, the world’s biggest polluter, is now the leader in the production and installation of solar panels and launched in December 2017 the world’s largest carbon market to encourage power companies to cut their emissions.
2. Less plastic in the oceans
THE topic of the year. Plastic pollution may have made its way into the public debate only recently, but it certainly occupies a prominent place in the global environmental conversation due to the scale of the problem. As campaigners often like to say, “At the current rate, there’ll be more plastic than fish in the oceans in 2050!”
Considering that humans use and discard 1 million plastic bottles every minute, I wonder if it may not come sooner. The problem has become so widespread that countries around the world have started to take measures against plastic. France’s ban on plastic cutlery and plastic bags is set to come into force this year. Kenya implemented the world’s toughest plastic bag ban, enforcing fines of up to $40,000 and imprisonment of up to four years for those found guilty of producing, selling and even using plastic bags. Britain too has taken action, implementing a charge on plastic bags and a (partial) ban on microbeads (those harmful beads found in cosmetics and synthetics fabrics). At the same time, 193 UN countries pledged to tackle the global crisis of plastic in the oceans by monitoring the amount they release into the seas each year and find ways to make it illegal to dump waste in the oceans. And finally, in January, the EU adopted the first ever European wide plan on plastics that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030.
3. A global shift towards a plant-based diet
You may be thinking, “Oh no, not that vegan propaganda again” but please hear me out. Is it really ‘propaganda’ when our food choices can help to save the world? Studies reveal that cutting out meat reduces greenhouse gases and that eating a vegan diet has the smallest carbon footprint compared to other diets. But it’s not all about greenhouse gases, animal agriculture is promoted by documentary Cowspiracy as the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Is this really the outcome of dining on a juicy steak? you’re wondering. Yes it is.
Here’s why: Meat production requires huge amounts of deforested land for food production and cattle grazing, in addition to freshwater and synthetic pesticides. The result of the modern animal agriculture process produces unimaginable quantities of waste and methane, the greenhouse gas with the biggest climate impact.
The solution? A shift towards less animal products on our plate in favor of more plants. It’s getting easier to eat plant-based with alternatives popping up in big cities. For those living in the countryside with the space to garden, you can just grow your own organic food! Veganism is growing worldwide and while I perfectly understand that not everyone can be vegan given differing levels of accessibility due to location, income, health requirements and personal motivation, reducing meat intake is an excellent first step that could have tremendous positive impact on the planet.
4. Increased awareness of environmental issues
This might seem obvious but it’s definitely not. While it may look like environmental issues are now well understood and handled, the green movement still lacks momentum and climate deniers are out there trying to convince us that climate change isn’t real. That Trump won the latest American election says something about the state of awareness and lack of interest, in environmental issues in one of the world’s most powerful countries. In Europe, fossil fuels lobbyists are constantly trying to influence European policy in order to to be awarded more permits to mine, pollute and avoid significant and impactful taxes and the resulting cleanup costs.
But I’m an optimist so here’s what I choose to focus on: The recent victories like the amount of people who showed up at climate marches all around the world, the delay and possible ban of drilling in the recently discovered Amazon reef, the suspension of the relationship between agri-giant Cargill & Wilmar and conflict palm oil and all the environmental victories because people cared enough to fight! Let’s hope 2018 will see more mobilization and less eco tragedies.
5. More empathy
This point might sound odd in a post about our hopes for positive outcomes for Planet Earth, but I strongly believe that all is interconnected, since we exist in an ecosystem. Ever heard of climate justice? Here’s how the World Resources Institute defines it:
“Climate change is not just an environmental challenge but also fundamentally a threat to socio-ecological and economic systems that undermines the realization of rights; involves asymmetrical impacts on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable and places a disproportionate burden on developing countries.”
This concept is the basis of all the international negotiations regarding financial and technological support to fight and adapt to climate change from developed countries to developing ones.
Related Post: Let’s Make 2018 the Year of Empathy
While there are exceptions, I strongly believe that someone who has very little empathy towards others will unlikely be concerned over environmental issues. These individuals won’t take into consideration human suffering over the loss of homes and livelihoods due to climate change nor will they make the connection between overconsumption of earth’s finite resources by the privileged few and social injustice.
But I have hope that this can change. Documentaries are being released every year highlighting the fate of vulnerable communities and species around the planet; artists are raising awareness through creations inspired by nature and social media and the internet are our most powerful tools to spread empathy and compassion, disseminate facts and information, and inspire others to make positive changes.
I’d really love to read your thoughts and hopes for 2018. Do you think this will be a defining year for the environmental movement? Feel free to comment below.