The Problem: Unsustainable Consumption
Unsustainable consumption by the human population is arguably the biggest underlying cause of environmental issues around the globe.
Our consumption of resources (everything from energy to food and fast fashion) is growing rapidly (in 2017 extraction of resources reached 92 billion tons) and is seriously harming our planet. This is because this way of life requires mass manufacture of products, which depletes finite materials and damages our planet’s ecosystems in often irreparable ways.
Excessive consumption also makes our planet increasingly uninhabitable by polluting the water, air and land. Whether we like it or not, waste products from the commodities we consume, (including vehicles fumes, ocean plastics and landfill) are overwhelming our natural ecosystems.
Perhaps the most alarming impact of this drive for ‘more’ is climate change (or climate breakdown), which represents dramatic shifts in climatic conditions.
To discover more about the many ways in which we are damaging the environments we physically and mentally depend on, read on, or use the menu to the left to delve into specific topics.
Earth’s climate is changing as a result of human behaviour.
Our excessive use of non-renewable energy, continues to release CO2 emissions (and other gases) into our atmosphere, which trap heat and cause the average temperature to rise (the greenhouse effect).
None of us intend to damage the planet as we go about our daily routines, but our high carbon lifestyles are taking their toll.
Unfortunately, the impacts of human driven climate breakdown are already apparent. The average global temperature of our planet rose to 1°C above ‘natural’ (pre-industrial) temperatures in 2017. Although this change may seem insignificant, this small increase has already caused both direct and chain effects such as:
- Sea level rise
- Water shortages
- Crop failure
- Extreme weather events
- Death of coral reefs
- Rainforest degradation
- Rapid extinction of species
If we continue ‘business as usual’, temperatures are likely to exceed 3.1° -5.1°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. At these temperatures, the impacts previously described would intensify and we would likely see abrupt and irreversible changes.
For instance, temperatures currently experienced in heatwaves would become the new norm for summer months, creating vast, inhospitable regions. Furthermore, coral reefs would likely be entirely wiped out, with 99% disappearing at just 2°C of warming.
It is believed that we only have 11 years to prevent further catastrophic and irreversible impacts. Therefore it is crucial that we quickly make changes to our lifestyles.
This link takes you to the XR (Extinction Rebellion) emergency page, which explains more about the Climate Emergency. https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/the-emergency/
Our continued exploitation of the world’s resources in combination with climate breakdown is also causing habitat change and destruction, which ultimately leads to the extinction of species. For example, habitats are often directly altered (e.g. forest clearance) to make space for farmland and artificial structures. Biodiversity loss is also caused by: direct exploitation, invasive species and pollution (including nutrient loading).
The air we breathe is being polluted by gases and toxins from industry, transport, wildfires and homes. Common pollutants include, smoke, soot, methane, and carbon dioxide. When present in harmful concentrations, major health problems arise such as lung disease and emphysema. In extreme cases, air pollution can even lead to declines in life expectancy.
Deforestation, agriculture, industry and landfill are polluting not only water sources, but terrestrial habitats too, inflicting further harm on our wildlife. Land pollution exacerbates the fact that space for wildlife is already shrinking (due to urbanisation, construction and climate change) by adding the threat of entrapment in litter, and ingestion of toxic materials. Additionally, similar to aquatic systems, this pollution reduces the resilience of habitats on land in the face of additional issues such as climate change.
While this all seems rather frightening, there is still great potential to rethink our behaviour and trigger positive change. And although it may be difficult to maintain hope for the future, examples of widescale positive change are already evident, such as the success of the renewable energy sector which generated 35.8 % of the UK’s energy in 2019. Furthermore, people are more concerned about environmental issues than ever before (according to polls), thanks to the ongoing efforts of activists (e.g. Greta Thunberg) and protests (e.g. Extinction Rebellion), suggesting that a whole wave of people are now prepared to act!
In terms of future goals, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advocates that limiting warming to below 1.5°C would significantly reduce the negative impacts of climate breakdown and secure a better future for the next generation. However, achieving this will be no simple feat. It will require global cooperation and mobilisation, and a dramatic shift in behaviour towards lower and more sustainable consumption.
If we do however take major action towards solving the climate crisis, we can take comfort in the fact that many of our actions will simultaneously improve other environmental issues, since their causes are often interlinked. For instance, consuming a plant-based diet reduces greenhouse gas emissions whilst also decreasing the need for deforestation (to create farmland).
Unfortunately, we can’t individually solve the climate and environmental crises, but we can effect positive change in our lives and directly influence those around us. Sadly, the alternative is to be part of the problem. By providing an example for others to follow, we can trigger positive impacts that ripple throughout our communities and ultimately contribute to a major part of the solution. A nursery provides the perfect setting to share changes and influence a large group of people! Links to learn more about the Climate Emergency in general can be found within the text above and the list below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRETT1L-aZQ – David Attenborough on the future of the planet.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAJsdgTPJpU – Greta Thunberg speech at UN Climate Action Summit.
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