It seems the world is in a gloomy state. Climate impacts, illegal wildlife poaching, rampant destruction of our forests, rising seas, plastics in the environment, uncontrolled urban sprawl, overpopulation, devastating and unregulated hunting that takes millions of songbirds annually in Europe, an underground economy focused on endangered species, CO2 and methane emissions, pesticides, mining and monocultural agriculture… the list appears to be endless!
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently published their report entitled Living Planet Report 2018. Marco Lambertini, Director General of the WWF, states in his opening remarks that “This is not a doom and gloom story; it is reality. The astonishing decline in wildlife populations shown by the latest Living Planet Index–a 60% fall in just over 40 years–is a grim reminder and perhaps the ultimate indicator of the pressure we exert on the planet.” In the tropics of Central and South America, this decline is actually 83%. I want to share a few statements from the report for your consideration: “Exploding human consumption is the driving force behind the unprecedented planetary change we are witnessing, through the increased demand for energy, land and water.” “While climate change is a growing threat, the main drivers of biodiversity decline continue to be the over exploitation of species… a recent assessment found that only a quarter of land on Earth is substantively free of the impacts of human activities. This is projected to decline to just one tenth by 2050.” The report looks at three indicators of the health of the environment: changes to species distribution, extinction risk and changes in community composition. All show severe declines or changes and indicate that the health of Earth is in jeopardy.
So what does this all mean? Simply stated–it can’t be business as usual. We are consumers and we thrive on and demand more and more conveniences. While we may cry out for someone to do something, it is actually we who must take action. Marching and protesting may raise awareness but does little to help in the long term. A cultural and lifestyle change is paramount if we are to make a difference. The challenge is we don’t even always know what impact we share. For example, rain forests all over the globe are being cut down at alarming rates so that palm oil trees can be planted. So what? Well, palm oil is in many cosmetics, shampoos, chocolates, detergents, cookies, soaps, bread and ice cream to name but a few. So we inadvertently support the loss of biodiversity in remote places such as Borneo and Malaysia because we consume these goods. We could never understand all the potential impacts, so the only way for this to work is for the producers of these products to develop a strong awareness and a commitment to reduce how their operations impact the environment. Unfortunately, money drives the world’s economy, not the potential and unknown impacts to our environment. We are in a unique position of awareness now as more information becomes available for us to consider. We cannot rely on someone else to do it for us. I recently spent time in Europe and it is astounding how far ahead they seem in understanding the impacts of their global footprints and more importantly doing something about it. They walk, we drive; they ride bikes, we drive; they shop locally at neighbourhood markets, we drive to box stores; they commute by public transit, most of us drive.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but as I’ve stated in previous columns, understanding the real impacts of our lifestyles will help us survive this calamity. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. But we can’t simply be satisfied with changing our behaviours to reduce our impacts or even bring them to net-zero. We actually have to reduce our impacts below net-zero so that Earth can recover. This likely won’t happen in my lifetime, but maybe it can in my grandchildren’s lifetime if we all try. To read the entire WWF report, visit the WWF website at www.worldwildlife.org. It may shock you!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.