How is our planet doing right now?
If you listen to mounting media coverage about the state of Earth's environment, it can be confusing and daunting. Scientific research talks about tipping points and paint a pretty bleak picture of where our planet is heading if we don't take quick and decisive action.
And yet, many of us carry on with our day, somehow untangling ourselves from the gravity of these claims as if it weren't really happening. I'm no psychologist, but could it be that the problems seem too big for us to digest and really face up to? The problems with our environment are so big in fact that we can't see their edges. And when we can't see those edges, and understand the problem as a whole, we are unable to see a clear path for action.
"Tell all the truth but tell it slant,"
Maybe Emily Dickinson knew our problem when she wrote these words. The truth is too daunting to take head on - for many the effect is a kind of paralyses of inaction. Think rabbits caught in the headlights!
There are many inspiring people in the world, both from the past and currently, doing valuable work in many of areas to help tackle the environmental crisis. Not least, former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson and renowned Irish Environmental Scientist Dr. Tara Shine.
Dr. Shine's Change By Degrees Campaign Change by Degrees: Sustainability Consultancy | Climate Action Advice helps businesses, organisations and communities to move forward in a sustainable way for our planet.
" The public needs to be persuaded of the benefits of addressing Climate Change," and she points to the many positives to be gained in terms of health, wellbeing, new jobs, lower energy bills and more connected society from embracing a more sustainable approach to work and our personal lives. Public needs to be persuaded of benefits of addressing climate change, conference told (irishtimes.com)
She continues that there is a
"need to spell out a vision of what a good outcome looks like."
I couldn't agree more. The language surrounding the environmental situation is either downright scary or sails over my head.
But I feel confident that all of us, our entire society, will get on board for the benefit of our planet once we are shown how to do our share - in a straight forward, uncomplicated way, which shows joined up thinking across the many public organisations in Ireland.
So, who can guide us through the jargon and show us the everyday actions we can take right now? Dr. Shine's new book: How To Save Your Planet- One Object At A Time is a great start. If you want ideas for how to make changes in your daily life, this book hits the spot.
I also look to David Attenborough for his view on where we are right now- as he drip feeds information about the state of the planet within entertaining and stunning documentaries. I don't have to look directly at the truth and that suits me just fine on a Sunday afternoon. As a trained naturalist, and someone who has been exploring the wild world for over 7 decades, his is also a no nonsense, down to earth, voice that I can understand and relate to.
His latest book, "A Life On Our Planet: My witness Statement and a Vision for the Future" is a fascinating read. He entertains the reader with snippets of expeditions into wild places he has filmed over the years, while at the same time giving a first hand account in his Witness Statement, starting in 1937, of the decline in the natural world.
He admits that he too can loose sight of our reckless behavior towards Earth;
"I have to remind myself of the dreadful things that humanity has done to the planet in my lifetime. After all, the Sun still comes up each morning, and the newspaper drops through the letterbox. But I think about it most days to some degree...are we sleepwalking into a catastrophe?"
Don't get me wrong, his eye witness account of the changes to Earth in this lifetime is startling. But, he also entertains and brings it to a level that I can grasp. And the good news is that he also takes the time to set out his vision for the future, a positive vision if we can let Nature find it's natural balance again.
So where are we now in 2021?
"We moved from being a part of nature to being apart from nature", according to Mr. Attenborough, and this has had catastrophic effects on our planet.
30% of the fish stocks are reduced to critical levels. An ocean in crisis will create a world in crisis.
Shallow-water corals are declining and seagrass beds, which contributes enormously to carbon capture and cleaning up our atmosphere, have been reduced by more than 30%.
Our plastic debris forms vast floating islands in the northern Pacific, with four other garbage patches forming elsewhere in the oceans. This plastic eventually decomposes into tiny micro plastics suspended in the water. Plastic fragments have been found in the stomachs of over 90% of seabirds and is invading oceanic food chains.
We currently cut down over 15 billion trees per year - since humans have started felling trees we have cut down roughly 46% of the worlds trees. The top driver is beef production, with soy production and palm oil production accounting for much of the rest. Half of the world's rainforests have been cleared since the 1960's . They are the home to 50% of the worlds species. Biodiversity decline around the world from habitat loss, pesticides and changing climates is causing a mass extinction of species on Earth. This threatens the entire fabric of the complicated and interdependent web of life on this planet.
Half of the fertile land on Earth is now farmed.
70% of the birds on Earth are domesticated, mostly chickens.
Over 96% of the mass of all mammals on Earth today are made up of ourselves and the animals we raise to eat. The remainder- wild mammals of the world - account for just 4%!
In 1937, 66% of the world was wilderness. In 2021, this has reduced to 35% of the entire world.
It's those last two that really get me- just 4% of all living mammals are wild and wilderness on Earth has shrunk to just 35% of the entire world! It's seems we have done a great job filling the planet with ourselves, domesticated animals and the places we live and work.
And this is not to mention the shrinking polar ice caps, warming atmosphere, huge loss of habitat and the ongoing release of polluting gases into our atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
In his straightforward opinion, David Attenborough calls it like it is:
"We have overrun the Earth."
And who can disagree?
One of the most important points that his book makes is that we live in a closed, and finite world. Once we run out of resources on Earth, or destabilize Earth's systems to the point of no return, there is no exit to a better place. This is as good as it gets! All our resources on this planet are limited and fragile. Every living thing plays a role in the overall health of the planet, has something else depending on it, and it is this biodiversity of life on Earth that is key to life, according to Mr. Attenborough.
It seems obvious that we must step back as a species ourselves, before we chew threw the lifeline that sustains us in the first place.
Mr. Attenborough continues that, by the 1970's, humans had innovated ourselves to be the dominant species on the planet;
"Our behaviour and our societies had become increasingly detached from the natural environment that surrounds us. There was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us. Unless we stopped ourselves, we would continue to consume the Earth's physical resources, until we had used them up."
Fifty years later, during which time we unfortunately did not stop ourselves, we are starting to witness the horrific consequences. We can not afford to ponder on this again in another fifty years, in the rear view mirror. Not even 10 years from now. The day has come and gone to START to act. Now we must catch up on the runaway train and hit reverse.
The dreaded Direct Truth - Tipping Points
Nobody wants to hear about tipping points, not unless it involves a seesaw and a balmy summers day. But, it seems there is a nastier type of tipping point lurking on the horizon.
In his book, Mr. Attenborough explains that Scientists have defined nine critical thresholds, a buffer zone within which we can operate and sustain ourselves and the planet.
Going beyond the buffer zone of one of those thresholds could destabilize our whole life system on Earth.
"We have already pushed through four of the nine boundaries."
So, it seems that YES, things are going to pot. So I take from this the real truth -
Your actions do matter, and mine, and our governments - all our actions now matter.
David Attenborough's Vision?
It's simple - biodiversity will save us.
He urges us to Rewild the World. He urges us to follow the path for sustainable living that is being laid out for us and let Nature reboot itself in the space we give back.
The insatiable human desire for more, for infinite progress, must stop so we can give Nature a chance to replenish itself. We must look at other ways of measuring success as a species, rather than profit and GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The health of our oceans, our forests, our atmosphere and our biodiversity has value- lets start to balance our bank balance with our Nature balance.
Because robbing our Nature balance to add to our bank balance is just chasing fools gold.