22 Aug 2021
Humanity has been in denial for decades, avoiding the truth about the implications of its complex relationship with nature. A toxic, turbulent and abusive liaison based on constant exploitation. Eventually, a break up is imminent!
As human population numbers have grown and with it consumption, we have seen the correlated demand in areas of food, living space as well as demand for luxury items created by commerce. At the heart, there is a very basic human desire for ‘more’. Populations across the world are now interconnected in a way few would imagine, therefore creating an environmental impact most choose to conveniently ignore.
An individual in the Western Northern Hemisphere seeking a never ending supply of fresh exotic vegetables, fruit and meat from half way around the globe at an ever decreasing price. For all those products to be on the consumer’s plate, it will have passed through an incredibly efficient, yet troublesome system.
From high production farming techniques driving the destruction of natural flora, fauna and land exploitation, to the use of pesticides, distribution from one country to another by lorries, planes and ships with huge carbon footprints, all managed by profit oriented distribution companies operating on a global scale. The simple desire of a consumer wanting more products at bargain costs has created a significant ecological footprint with dramatic consequences.
The interconnections between our global systems and social fabrics are very sensitive and easily interrupted. The world has had a taste of such disruption with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the even bigger issues of climate change and biodiversity loss are upon us and we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to, nor try to separate them, as they are all interconnected.
The reality is that the pace of destruction is faster than we had ever predicted. Unless we address the critical situation we have created, and put our house in order, we may be homeless and face a grim future.
“2021 must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature”, said António Guterres, the UN secretary general, in an address to the One Planet Summit of global leaders in Paris last January.
We have seen how much the emergence of a pandemic can cost us and how quickly it can affect businesses, the global economy, and our physical and mental health. Climate change is one of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss, which is a key driver of emerging infectious diseases. Investing in ecological measures that can help future pandemics is much lower than the cost of a pandemic.
One-fifth of the world’s countries are at risk of their natural ecosystems collapsing because of the destruction of their habitats and wildlife, according to Swiss Re. Food, air, clean water, and flood protection have already been damaged by human activity.
According to the OECD, the total economic value to society of biodiversity and ecosystem services is estimated to be as much as USD 140 trillion per year and over half of the world’s GDP (USD 44 trillion) is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services.
The recently released 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, IPCC, is a stark warning that humanity will not be able to limit global warming, unless we take rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The top major green house gas emitters in the world are China, United States, India and Russia. China, Brazil, Australia and Russia’s current energy policies will prompt to an astonishing 5C temperature rise.
At 1.5C of global warming, we will see significant and unprecedented changes to the weather across all regions, but at 2C of global warming, the results could be catastrophic and irreversible, with heat extremes, heavy precipitation, marine heat waves, reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost, agricultural and ecological droughts.
We have already seen the impact of climate change across the globe with fires, floods, draughts, hurricanes, etc. In Brazil, the worst drought in nearly a century, followed by extreme cold temperatures, has been reported, affecting heavily Brazil’s farming. Deforestation is considered as one of the main causes.
As world population is predicted to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, food demand will intensify, putting pressure on the land. We have already exploited more than a third of the world’s land area to crop and livestock production, affecting the lives of thousands of species as well as the land. At least 60% of the world’s agricultural area is dedicated to cattle ranching, making up to only 24% of the world’s meat consumption.
According to a projection by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, PBL, the area of land under agriculture could increase from 35% to 39% by 2050. Industrial agriculture is one such villain responsible for degradation of the land, water, and ecosystems, high green house gas emissions, biodiversity loss, hunger and nutrition deficiencies, as well as obesity and diet-related diseases.
“We are facing acute, interconnected crises – hunger, malnutrition, biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, growing inequality and poverty. What we need are real solutions, not more greenwashing from agribusiness. Real solutions – public regulation for agroecology and Food Sovereignty – require dismantling corporate power, redistributing resources, re-localising food systems and ensuring small scale producers have control. Food is a human right not a commodity”, said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, from Friends of the Earth International.
Global agribusiness giants not only control the market price farmers get, but also what we eat, not to mention their contribution to poor health, food waste, soil erosion and soil acidification due to the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, wildlife destruction, ground water pollution, disease outbreaks, death, hunger and food insecurity, deforestation and climate change. According to the Climate Land Use Alliance, commercial agriculture drives 71% of tropical deforestation, posing serious risks to our global forests and climate.
According to the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services, IPBES, half a million terrestrial species of animals and plants may already be doomed into extinction. Up to one fifth of wild species are at risk of extinction this century due to climate change. Over 25% of forests have been permanently cleared. Since 1970, the global abundance of vertebrates has declined by 68% and since 1700, 90% of global wetlands have been lost.
The degradation of our oceans, soil, rivers, corals, can take decades, if not centuries to recover, and in some cases this destruction may already be irreversible.
Governments across the globe have made many commitments with the intent to tackle climate change. The commitments included the 2011 deadline to decrease emissions by 4%, the 2015 deadline to decrease it by 5%, and the 2020 deadline with the promise to decrease emissions by 10% each year. It has been a total failure and they have missed every single deadline. In the meantime, global emissions keep increasing.
“We have to reduce emissions far more rapidly than we are today. We have to leave fossil fuels in the ground, we have to remove the green house gases we have already put into the atmosphere that are creating this crisis today and into the future, and then to buy time while we manage those two processes. Then we also need to refreeze the Arctic. I don’t think it’s ridiculous, we have at least half a dozen of processes we’ve been looking at (Marine Cloud Brightening Technique)…. We don’t have the time we need to reduce emissions…buying time becomes essential”, said Sir David King, Chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) at a Chanel 4 interview last July.
Humanity has to urgently re-think its relationship with nature. Not only we have the responsibility to address the current ecological crises we face, but also try to understand how we got here.
Will science and technology be able to solve the climate change and biodiversity loss crises?
“What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny – that is, by religion… More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one.” – Lynn White’s 1967 article.
This is the time of serious commitment not only from our world leaders, but also from each one of us. It’s our responsibility to get involved and put pressure on our governments, businesses and policy makers across the world and demand total transparency and urgent action!